1,000-bed development goes to Bloomington city council for possible approval on March 4

At its regular meeting next Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council will consider for approval a 1,000-bed planned unit development (PUD) southeast of the interchange of I-69 and SR 45/46, proposed by Trinitas Ventures.

That consideration follows hearings by the council’s four-member land use committee, which met for the second time about the project on Wednesday this week.

The proposed project would come with a donation by Trinitas to the city of Bloomington of 45 ready-to-build lots for single-family housing, complete with streets and utilities. Trinitas pegs the value of the lots at $2.9 million.

The 45 lots are one of the components of the project that Trinitas is pitching to the city council as a public benefit—something that local lawmakers are supposed to consider for this kind of project.

According to a planning staff memo, the uses and development standards for the 45 lots will conform to a new R4 zoning district. The district is a part of the updated unified development ordinance that the council approved last year and was ratified by the city plan commission earlier this year.  The permitted uses for R4 (Residential Urban) include duplexes and triplexes.

A PUD is by definition a special, customized zoning district, which is a change to local law. That’s why the proposal has to be OK’d by the city council, the city’s legislative branch. Crucial to the consideration that the council has to give such a project is the public benefit that comes from allowing the zoning change.

Besides the 45 single-family lots, Trinitas is also touting the 14.62 acres, out of the 39 acres of the site (about 37 percent of it), that will be preserved as open space.

The project includes a mix of townhomes, cottages, and student-oriented housing totaling 825 bedrooms. The 1,000-bedroom figure is somewhat of a ballpark figure, because it’s not certain how many bedrooms the future owners of the ready-to-build lots will want to construct.

labeled Trinitas Outline Plan_Commission-20200113-Packet
Graphic from Trinitas with additional descriptive labels by The Square Beacon. The numbers indicate acres.

The sheer number of units, located at not-easily-walkable distances from existing amenities, is seen by some land use committee members as a drawback to the project. Helping to mitigate that concern is the willingness by Trinitas to consider funding in perpetuity a public bus route from the project eastward to the Indiana University campus.

The annual cost of funding the bus route would be around $358,000, which about $20,000 more than the figure initially discussed. The increased number is based on some new route frequencies and span of service proposed by land use committee member Matt Flaherty. Jeff Kanable, who represented Trinitas at the land use committee meetings, said on Wednesday that he could not immediately confirm that Trinitas would be OK with the additional $20,000 per year.

Kanable also said Trinitas also had some concerns about committing to paying an annual amount in perpetuity, when various unknown scenarios could unfold. For example, what if autonomous vehicles eliminate the need for public transit and Bloomington Transit no longer exists? BT general manager Lew May told the land use committee on Wednesday that he could not imagine a future where public transit did not continue to exist in some form.

Any agreement on bus route funding will be one of the “reasonable conditions” for the project. The city council can impose such reasonable conditions, often abbreviated as “RCs” in city council usage, as part of its approval of any PUD.

Reasonable conditions are a tool to ensure that a developer’s claimed public benefit will actually be a part of the project. The Trinitas PUD could be the second one in less than a year that includes bus route funding as reasonable condition for a large residential development. A similar reasonable condition helped convince the city council last year to approve a 750-bed PUD proposed by Collegiate Development Group at the site of the current Motel 6.

Wednesday’s land use committee meeting discussion included two other reasonable conditions. One of them, put forward by Steve Volan, would require that the buildings along the main street running through the townhouse section follow the curve of
the street.

A third reasonable condition, put forward by land use committee chair Isabel Piedmont-Smith, would require that 12 parking spaces be are “plugin ready” and that solar arrays be installed to generate enough electricity to power the stations.

On Wednesday, a couple of residents who live near the proposed project and are members of the Crescent Bend Neighborhood Association, addressed the land use committee with a range of concerns, including the potential for increased traffic along W. 17th Street and Arlington Drive.

The traffic study done for Trinitas by Aztec TYPSA Group concluded that an eastbound left-turn lane is warranted along 17th Street at the west entrance to the project site, during both morning and evening peak hours.

The city’s planning staff response to the traffic study acknowledges the conclusion that a left-turn lane is warranted, but in light of the current work being completed on W. 17th Street, stops short of saying such a lane should be built:

The petitioner’s submitted information indicates that a turning lane into the property is warranted along 17th Street, however the Department is still evaluating this aspect. The City is in the process of widening 17th Street and the inclusion of an additional turning lane could have detrimental impacts to the corridor. This will be evaluated more in-depth with the final plan approval and no approval for the design of 17th Street is given with this approval.

On Wednesday, Eric Greulich senior zoning planner for Bloomington, described the negative impact of the additional traffic due to the development as taking place inside the development. Cars might stack up inside the project as residents tried to exit onto W. 17th or Arlington Drive.

The street configuration internal to the site was something Flaherty described on Wednesday as a “sticking point” for him but not a “deal breaker.” He would have preferred to see the road that comes in from the entrance on 17th Street go straight through and connect all the way to the east-west connector road. Flaherty said that the attempt to reduce cut-through traffic tended to relegate traffic to main arterial roads.

On Wednesday, head of the city’s economic and sustainable development department, Alex Crowley, addressed the land use committee on the topic of the 45 lots that will be donated to the city. About the city’s future development of the 45 lots, Crowley told the land use committee there’s still some planning to be done. One possibility is for the city to consider issuing a request for information (RFI) for developers to help think through the development, Crowley said.  Crowley mentioned the possibility of a deed restriction to ensure that the houses would remain affordable into the future, not just initially.

On Wednesday, the land use committee took a series of 4–0 votes—on the reasonable conditions and the re-zoning proposal as a whole. The committee’s votes are advisory and don’t have a legal impact on the council’s consideration on March 4.

Attending the land use committee on Wednesday were non-committee councilmembers Jim Sims and Sue Sgambelluri. Sims is an at-large member of the council, and is elected city-wide. Sgambelluri represents District 2, where the Trinitas project is located.