Amid “absurdity” Bloomington’s city council OKs mixed-use development on Pete Ellis Drive with 344 bedrooms, 19K square feet of commercial space

In a unanimous vote on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council approved a planned unit development (PUD) for the empty lot on the north side of the Longview Avenue, between Pete Ellis Drive and 7th Street.

The new zoning will allow for construction of a single four-story building with 344 bedrooms and 19,000 square feet of commercial space, enclosing two interior courtyards on the east and west sides of a structured parking garage with a total of 306 parking spaces.

The final vote of the council was taken around 11 p.m. about two and a half hours after deliberations started. The proposal had been considered at two previous meetings of the land use committee of the city council, which gave a 4–0 recommendation to approve the project.

The handling of the Curry PUD included 14 different roll-call votes by the council, six of which were split. The roll-calls were taken on various “reasonable conditions” that the council can impose on the zoning for a PUD.

Three of the split votes related to the same reasonable condition, which involved inviting the developer to redesign the project to reduce the parking ratio from 0.88 to 0.63 spaces per bedroom.

The first split vote, which failed, was to amend the reasonable condition to do two things. The first change was to alter the text from “by reducing” to “committing to reduce.” The second change was to put 0.63 in the blank that appeared in the draft condition that had been put forward by councilmember Steve Volan.

Councilmember Dave Rollo objected to the late-in-the-game change, characterizing it as ad hoc negotiation. Rollo questioned why the land use committee had not settled the issue of the wording.

The first vote to amend the reasonable condition failed 4–5, which meant the reasonable condition in front of the council still had a blank.

To fill in the blank, so that the council would have something specific to vote on, a second amendment was proposed, which did nothing but fill in the blank with a number: 0.63. That amendment passed, 5–4.  The amended reasonable condition, with a number filled int the blank, failed 3–6. Voting for it were Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Kate Rosenbarger.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty indicated agreement with the remarks from development services manager Jackie Scanlan, who said the administration’s view was that the council should vote on the petition that comes to the council as recommended by the plan commission. The the council should not continue to negotiate changes, and the kind of change Volan’s reasonable condition made went too far, Scanlan said.

For his part, developer Tyler Curry said he had no objection to reducing the parking ratio. That was one reason Volan said that it was an “absurd” result—the developer had agreed to the reduction and the council was deciding not to compel the reduction.

The way the parking ratio condition was handled left Volan “dumbfounded.” “We all know that too much parking is bad,” he said, and the developer had agreed to it.

Flaherty said that the developer can build less parking if he wants to.

The other three split votes were also related to a single reasonable condition—one about requiring the developer to pay for a traffic signal at the intersection of Longview and Pete Ellis Drive, if a future traffic study shows one is necessary.

In contrast to the parking ratio condition, the traffic signal condition did not have the support of developer Tyler Curry. He told the council that the traffic signal would be a “deal breaker,” because of the estimated $250,000 cost. It would mean that he’d have to consider reducing the quality of finishes, kitchen cabinets, brick, or windows.

The first vote on the traffic signal condition involved a procedural delay. Volan wanted to put off the vote on the traffic signal requirement until after the parking ratio condition, reasoning that if the project had fewer parking spaces, it might have less of an impact on traffic. That vote passed 7–2 over dissent from Rollo and Jim Sims.

When the council returned to the traffic signal condition, first up was consideration of an amendment that split the cost of the signal, if it turned out to be needed, between the developer and the city. Curry said given a choice of spending between $125,000 and $250,000 he would prefer to spend $125,000, but the smaller amount was still a “big ask.”

The vote on the amendment to have the reasonable condition split the cost of the traffic signal passed 5–4. But the vote on that condition, as amended, failed on a unanimous 0–9 vote.

Before winding up the Curry PUD, council president Steve Volan said there had been some “absurdity” in the deliberations, but he defended the city council’s authority to review and amend a proposal that it is asked to consider.

The other reasonable conditions sailed thorough on unanimous votes: non-visibility of mechanicals on roof; minimum power (15 kW) for solar panels, white or vegetative roof, green screen or art installation; and prohibitions on intrusions of noise and light on neighboring properties.

Why was this project in front of the city council at all?

PUD zoning is inherently a departure from the specifications of any other zoning district in the city code, which makes it a kind of custom zoning. Zoning regulations are local laws, which means the city council has to approve PUDs.

In the case of the Curry Urban Properties proposal, the zoning that’s in place is commercial limited (CL), which includes residential uses as one of its allowable uses. But residential use in a CL district is supposed to be limited to floors above the street level. So one of the points of departure from CL zoning for the Curry PUD is to allow first-floor residential uses.

Another constraint on residential uses in CL districts is a maximum density of 15 dwelling units per acre. The 344 bedrooms distributed across 264 units work out to 29 units per acre, almost twice the allowable density. The Curry PUD defines the zoning as allowing a maximum of 30 units per acre.

Another point of departure from CL zoning for Curry’s PUD is the building height limit of 40 feet. The approved PUD allows a building up to 57 feet tall.

Generally, a PUD is subject to minimum size of 5 acres. Curry’s PUD asks that the minimum 5-acre requirement be waived for the 3.2-acre site.

First on the enumerated list of considerations the city council is supposed to weigh when deciding to approve or reject a PUD proposal is whether the proposed PUD meets the requirement of the zoning code for PUD districts. And a key requirement for a PUD district is that it “provide a public benefit that would not occur without deviation from the standards of the unified development ordinance.”

Among the project’s attributes that are pitched as meeting the public benefit requirement is a 99-year commitment to affordable housing. Specifically the proposal is to make 10 percent of the bedrooms available to tenants earning 100 percent of AMI ($51,700) and 5 percent of the bedrooms for tenants with income no more than 120% of AMI. Apartments keyed to this level of AMI are commonly called “workforce” housing.

The plan commission and staff’s report cite the inclusion of workforce housing, proximity to the new hospital, and the effort to mitigate the bulk and height of the building by modulating the facades as reasons to support the rezoning.

One thought on “Amid “absurdity” Bloomington’s city council OKs mixed-use development on Pete Ellis Drive with 344 bedrooms, 19K square feet of commercial space

  1. We lived across from this field for 5 years. Do you realize how destructive this is going to be for several species of birds? The red wing black birds fill that field.And when it came time for harvesting of the hay their young were flying and they migrated away. The red tail hawks and hawks hunt that field for food. What is going to happen when you take all the land for animals away? Such a sad thing to be happening.

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