UDO update: Bedroom counts maintained for plexes; prohibition of plexes in core neighborhoods to be considered Thursday

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council started its deliberation on possibly 80 different amendments to the update of the college town’s unified development ordinance.

The first tussle unfolded over which of four amendments about the status of duplexes and triplexes would be heard first. The outcome of a ranked-voting scheme, which required two iterations to break a tie, was to consider first a pair of amendments sponsored by Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

Both of Piedmont-Smith’s amendments proposed to change the use-specific standards for plexes.

One of Piedmont-Smith’s amendments (Am 03) proposed to reduce the number of total bedrooms in duplexes and triplexes from six to four and from nine to six, respectively. At Wednesday’s meeting, she added a stipulation that the bedroom count per unit would not exceed two bedrooms for either duplexes or triplexes.

Am 03 failed on a 4–5 vote after around 90 minutes of public comment.

The other of Piedmont-Smith’s amendments (Am 05) establishes a limit to the portion of a house that can be demolished in order to create a duplex or triplex. It passed on a 6–3 vote.

Piedmont-Smith’s amendments were seen as a kind of compromise position. The other two amendments that were in the mix for first consideration by the council on Wednesday did not address use-specific conditions. They were more general in character.

Steve Volan submitted an amendment (Am 02) that would make plexes in core neighborhoods “by-right.” So it would remove the conditional use public review process, but leave the use-specific standards intact.

The next amendment considered by the council, starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, is one that is co-sponsored by Chris Sturbaum and Dave Rollo (Am 01). It would prohibit plexes in core neighborhoods.

Near the start of the meeting, it became clear why there was no Amendment 04 in the sequence. It had been a proposal from Piedmont-Smith to add an owner-occupancy requirement for plexes, which turns out to be legally problematic.

Word from the city’s corporation counsel was relayed at Wednesday’s meeting by Scott Robinson, assistant director of planning and transportation: Case law from other states suggests that owner-occupancy for plexes would not likely survive a court challenge in Indiana. In contrast, the city’s legal staff thinks that requiring owner-occupancy for accessory dwelling units (UDO) could be defended in court.

The council considered a motion made by Andy Ruff to extend deliberations until 11 p.m., but it failed on a 3–6 vote. The council had adopted a schedule that called for the meeting to adjourn by 10 p.m. unless the council voted to extend it.

Councilmember Allison Chopra was adamant that the deliberations not be extended, saying, “This is not an OK way to do business!”

Chopra argued for adjourning the meeting at the appointed hour by saying that civility tends to decrease as the meetings go longer. “Isabel Piedmont-Smith made a very good point about how uncivil this process has been, and I agree,” adding, “And I’m not saying I haven’t been a part of it. But it’s only going to get worse after 10 p.m.”

Chopra’s reference to being “a part of it” was an allusion to her flipping off Chris Sturbaum at an earlier meeting, when he told her to go home, if she didn’t want to continue deliberating.

Before adjournment, Wednesday’s meeting featured its own chippy moments. But a lot of the commentary from all sides—the public’s and the council’s alike—was devoted to praise of Piedmont-Smith’s effort to find a compromise. Not everyone who expressed appreciation for her effort agreed with her amendments.

Some of those who generally spoke in support of greater density did not like Piedmont-Smith’s proposed reduction in bedroom counts for plexes, but were in favor of the amendment if it made plexes palatable enough that the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment banning plexes would be rejected.

Others who supported plexes in core neighborhoods did not want to see the bedroom reduction amendment pass, because a two-bedroom unit is, they said, is not enough to accommodate a family with two kids who are of the same sex. Councilmember Jim Sims raised the issue at the start, during the council’s question time.

During the meeting, Sims spitballed a different approach to compromise on plexes—placing a cap on the number that are built. After the meeting, Sims told The Beacon he might try to put an amendment together along those lines, but was not sure if such an amendment could be worked up in a short time frame.

Several people during public commentary spoke generally about how they support the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment or generally support density, which led Rollo at a couple of points to encourage public commenters to confine their comments to the specific amendments being considered at the time. “Let’s focus like a laser on Amendment 03,” Rollo said at one point.

Some public commenters derided the proposed amendments as “lipstick on a pig.”

Sturbaum said Piedmont-Smith’s amendment was only “slightly less terrible” than plexes would be without the amendment. When Sturbaum characterized Piedmont-Smith’s amendment as a “last-minute” attempt at negotiation, Piedmont-Smith interrupted from her spot towards the other end of the dais from Sturbaum: “Did you ever talk to me?!”

During his commentary, councilmember Steve Volan challenged those who claimed they’d been made offers on their houses to produce such offers in writing. Hisses came from the audience, and Volan said, “Go ahead and hiss, go ahead, let it out.”

At Wednesday’s meeting the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment was introduced and the staff commentary was given. It’s possible that those elements could be repeated to start off Thursday’s meeting.

Based on deliberations and roll calls so far, it’s councilmembers Jim Sims and Dorothy Granger who are likely the key votes on the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment. Rollo, Sturbaum, Ruff and Susan Sandberg are nearly certain to vote for it. Volan, Piedmont-Smith and Chopra can be counted as nearly certain no votes.

Roll Call Voting Table: Nov. 13, 2019

Topic Sturbaum Granger Chopra Rollo Piedmont-Smith Volan Ruff Sandberg Sims
Debate Structure: 2 mins each public speaker yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Debate Structure: Use ranked choice of options yes yes yes yes yes no yes yes yes
Am 03 as amended (2BR/unit) no no yes no yes yes no no yes
Am 05
limit demo for plexes
no  yes  yes yes yes  yes no  no  yes
no  yes  no yes  no  no yes no no


In numbered order, here are the amendments that have been made public so far.

  • 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

Ranked Voting

The council used a ranked voting scheme, with written ballots, to sort out which of the four plex-related amendments would be considered first. Piedmont-Smith’s amendments were paired together. The agreed-on method for tabulating the winner was to take the lowest sum of cells for each choice.
By that method, the first round ended in a tie. Volan protested “That’s not how ranked voting works,” pointing to the fact that the Am03/Am05 option had received five out of nine “1” rankings. Rollo countered by pointing to the wording in the motion that was used to adopt the ranked-voting method.

The tie resulted from the fact that Piedmont-Smith ranked the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment higher than Volan’s amendment. The other four councilmembers, besides Piedmont-Smith, who ranked her pair of amendments highest, ranked Rollo-Sturbaum’s amendment lowest.

When Volan’s amendment was eliminated, and a second round of ranked-choice voting was done, Piedmont-Smith’s amendments prevailed over the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment.

Ranked Voting Round 1

Am 01
Am 02
Volan 3 2 1
Sims 3 2 1
Sturbaum 1 2 3
Sandburg 1 2 3
Ruff 1 2 3
Chopra 3 2 1
Piedmont-Smith 2 3 1
Granger 2 3 1
Rollo 1 2 3
SUM (lowest wins) 17 20 17


Ranked Voting Round 2

Am 01
Am 02
Volan 2 1
Sims 2 1
Sturbaum 1 2
Sandburg 1 2
Ruff 1 2
Chopra 2 1
Piedmont-Smith 2 1
Granger 2 1
Rollo 1 2
SUM (lowest wins) 14   13