On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council gave unanimous approval to the planned unit development (PUD) zoning required for a Habitat for Humanity project in the southwest part of town.
The project will extend five streets that are currently stubs, to construct 70 houses over the next seven to eight years.
In May last year, Bloomington announced it would be supporting the project by paying for around 45 percent ($800,000) of the infrastructure costs for the Osage Place project.
The city is also looking to collaborate with Habitat on a new multi-modal path along the electric line corridor on the north side of the property—from Weimer Road to Rogers Street at the west entrance of Switchyard Park.
The parks department is working to design that trail, which is planned to be funded with $1.4 million from one of three “bicentennial bonds” that the city council approved in October 2018. City council support for that $3,435,000 bond was split, with three dissenting: Jim Sims, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and then-councilmember Dorothy Granger.
The other project covered by the same “bicentennial bond” was a protected bicycle lane along 7th Street, from the B-Line trail to the Indiana University campus.
That bond project also made an appearance on Wednesday night’s agenda. The local code changes required for the 7-Line project—which included the removal of on-street parking spaces and the addition of stop signs for north-south streets intersecting with 7th Street—were approved by the city council as the last item on the agenda around 11:30 p.m.
Councilmembers were enthusiastic about the Habitat project. They had various questions for Habitat for Humanity project supervisor Nathan Ferreira, about energy efficiency, preservation of trees on the site, and anti-racist attributes of the project.
Tree preservation and racial equity were topics pushed by comments from the public.
The site to be rezoned is about 12.5 acres just east of RCA Community Park.
The approval changed the basic zoning of the property from R2 to a modified version of R4. The reason for the zoning request was based on the small lot sizes that Habitat wants to use for the development, which are between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet. The minimum lot size for an R2-zoned lot is 7,200 square feet. The minimum for R4 is 4,000 square feet.
The relatively high density was a positive attribute of the proposal as presented in the staff report. So was the amount of connectivity. A multi-use path runs east-west through the site, connecting the neighborhood to RCA Community Park. The electric-line corridor multi-modal path is another connecting feature.
According to the staff report, among the city’s goals that the project would help to achieve are: owner-occupied housing near a major employment center; housing near community parks; and family housing near other existing single-family housing.
The first 30 houses are supposed to be built in 2021. And the second phase will start in 2023.
During deliberations on Wednesday, Matt Flaherty got a response from Habitat project supervisor Nathan Ferreira on a question he’d raised about energy efficiency and achievement of net-zero status during the council’s earlier land use committee meeting. Ferreira said the the houses will be wired for solar panels.
About the idea of pursing all-electric utilities, Ferreira said installing a high-efficiency heat pump is actually about the same cost as putting in gas. But the ongoing cost of running gas appliances, compared to running all-electric appliances is much cheaper, Ferreira said. If the houses are wired for solar panels, when an owner adds them, they can choose to drop the gas utility, Ferreira said.
A neighbor to the property, Mark Fyffe, weighed in during public comment on a couple of different topics, including the possibility that some trees could be preserved. They’re at the end of Cherokee Drive, on the east edge of the project.
Fyffe described them as a row of pine trees, maybe 10 or 12 feet past the property line. It sounded like those trees were not going to be preserved, Fyffe said. But they’re tall pine trees, they provide shade, and they look nice.
Fyffe said he assumed that the people who move in next to those trees would also appreciate them if there’s room for them. “I’d just like to ask you to keep those pine trees in place,” Fyffe said.
Councilmember Dave Rollo took up the cause of the pine trees and crafted a condition of approval that said Habitat would try to preserve the trees, to which Ferreira was amenable. The council’s vote on the attempt at tree preservation as a condition of approval for the rezoning was approved on a unanimous vote.
During general public commentary at the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Renée Miller asked councilmembers to ask each other, before they vote on something, how it is anti-racist.
Responding to Miller’s suggestion during the discussion on Habitat’s project, Flaherty talked about using an anti-racist lens when crafting policy and making decisions, and how he is trying to do that. Flaherty said that the Black homeownership rate is not equitable in Bloomington—it’s less than for white families. Flaherty asked if it’s legal or practical, for Habitat to address racial inequities as a part of their homeownership model.
Earlier in the meeting Ferreira had reviewed Habitat’s three basic criteria for participants in their program: their need for housing; their ability to pay; and their willingness to partner. They also contribute 250 hours of volunteering called “sweat equity” and participate in homeownership classes.
Responding to Flaherty’s question about whether Habitat’s model could incorporate a way to address racial inequity was Wendi Goodlett, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. She said because Habitat services mortgages, they have to follow the same guidelines as banks.
Goodlett said that if the community would like to see greater diversity in the population of Habitat owners, “one of the things that that you can do is help promote our program throughout the community in different minority populations.”
Goodlett added,”We’re just now beginning to see an increase in Black families who are applying to the program, and part of that is word-of-mouth.”
Goodlett said most of the families that apply for Habitat programs do it through word-of-mouth. Habitat does not promote its application windows other than on its website, she said. When the application windows open, word-of-mouth spreads news of it quickly, Goodlett said.
Councilmember Jim Sims, said he thinks there needs to be a “more intentional outreach to underrepresented groups.” Sims added, “I don’t think we can depend on just simply word of mouth moving forward.”
Habitat for Humanity has been around since 1988. The local Habitat for Humanity is currently building its 209th house, Ferreira told the city council.