Analysis: Next verses of crescendoing UDO debate cued up for Nov. 13 city council meeting

UDO art Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 1.23.23 PM
The notes are unaltered. The lyrics to the local university’s fight song have been amended to achieve a humorful effect. 

Put in orchestral terms, starting Wednesday night at 6 p.m., Bloomington’s city council president Dave Rollo will conduct a political choir of sorts. Not everyone will be singing from the same song book.

On the council’s agenda are proposed amendments to a proposed update to the unified development ordinance (UDO), which is the city’s basic land use and development policy document. Presentation to the council of the draft UDO update has already stretched across four separate evenings recently, starting with the first one on Oct. 16. It was followed by meetings on Oct. 22, Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

The UDO draft update was recommended for approval by the plan commission’s 9–0 vote on Sept. 23.

The crucial concept that has created community-wide discord is density: How concentrated should living arrangements be in different parts of the city? The four proposed amendments that are first in numerical sequence on the council’s agenda all deal with density.

An amendment co-sponsored by Rollo and councilmember Chris Sturbaum would revise the plan-commission-recommended UDO draft so that the use of property as duplexes and triplexes in core neighborhoods would be prohibited.

A competing amendment from councilmember Steve Volan would remove the “conditional use” requirement for duplexes and triplexes that’s in the UDO draft. That means a required public review process would be eliminated, but the use-specific standards for the plexes would remain. The use-specific standards include a maximum number of total bedrooms: six for duplexes and nine for triplexes.

The use-specific standards for plexes are the subject of two amendments put forward by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith. One of the amendments would reduce the maximum bedrooms to four bedrooms in duplexes and six bedrooms for triplexes.

Piedmont-Smith’s amendments could be described as an attempt to achieve some harmony between the outright prohibition of plexes in core neighborhoods and the current UDO draft, which allows them under the conditional use requirement of a public review process.

If either of the other two amendments (the Rollo-Sturbaum proposal or Volan’s) are first on the council’s play list and one of them passes, Piedmont-Smith’s amendments might not get a hearing.

How much public commentary is entertained, and how much council deliberation unfolds about the topic of amendment sequencing, will depend in part on the opening strains of the meeting are conducted.

In musical terms, some of the commentary and debate so far could be described as off-key. It has prompted councilmembers to talk about some of the sour notes.

At the council’s Oct. 30 meeting, councilmember Susan Sandberg cautioned against the use of “easy labels” like NIMBY and YIMBY and rhetoric like “the sky is falling.” She said, “Let’s all tamp that down …”

At a recent regular constituent meeting, which councilmember Piedmont-Smith convenes monthly at city hall, a resident called her a liar.

A mailing sent out by the non-profit Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) has drawn criticism from councilmembers Piedmont-Smith and Volan, for misrepresenting the proposed draft UDO.

Among the statements Volan has publicly disputed is the mailer’s header: “Single Family Zoning Could be Eliminated in Bloomington!” Volan says this implies that only plexes will be allowed from now on. Volan points out that the draft UDO’s permission to construct plexes, under conditional use, does not eliminate the possibility of building single-family houses in core neighborhoods.

CONA has since responded with a statement meant to clarify the content of the mailer.

Sturbaum has defended the mailer as necessary for informing the public about the council’s consideration of the UDO, because the local press has not done an adequate job of that.

CONA sent out a press release in early October stating its position on the UDO. CONA opposes plexes in the core neighborhoods, but supports accessory dwelling units on conditional use.

Volan has also questioned whether the CONA mailer violates the IRS strictures on lobbying by non-profits. The IRS code on 501(c)(3) organizations has an outright prohibition on support or opposition or political candidates. The CONA mailer does not support or oppose any political candidate.

The IRS code on lobbying includes a statement defining 501(c)(3) organizations as those, “no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation…” The concept of “substantial part” is one for which the IRS has proportional tests. Two of the questions that Volan has posed are: How much money was spent on the postcard mailing? What portion was it of CONA’s total spending in 2019?

In the last couple days, a  group that supports greater density has weighed in about the UDO.

Housing4All is an organization that describes itself as a “broad coalition of community groups.” Groups named in the press release are: Bloomington Housing Authority; Bloomington Board of REALTORS; Board of Trustees; Monroe County Community School Corporation; College Democrats (at Indiana University); Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce; Loren Wood Builders; and South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities.

From the Housing4All  press release: “Advocates support allowing modest duplexes and triplexes (“plexes”) citywide in Bloomington’s Unified Development Code (UDO).”

The council is not expected to finish its consideration of amendments this week. That’s in part because the meetings are supposed to conclude by 10 p.m., unless the council votes to extend them.

Additional sessions are scheduled for Nov. 19, Nov. 20 and beyond.


Here’s a list of amendments set for the Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 city council meetings with links to just the extracted pages containing the described amendment:

  • Am 01 (Sturbaum and Rollo) prohibit plexes
  • Am 02 (Volan) allow plexes by-right
  • Am 03 (Piedmont-Smith) change use-specific plex standards—bedrooms
  • Am 05 (Piedmont-Smith) change use-specific plex standards—demolition, size
  • Am 06 (Piedmont-Smith) allows ADUs by-right
  • Am 07 (Volan) allows ADUs by-right and removes use-specific owner-occupied ADU standard
  • Am 08 (Piedmont-Smith) eliminates payment in lieu of construction of affordable units on site
  • Am 09 (Volan, at staff request) creates definition of cooperative housing

Other Documents

[Note: The writer is married to Mary Morgan, director of advocacy for the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, which is a part of Housing4All.]