Monroe County officials apologize: Change to denser zoning went through automatically when 90-day window was missed

A 5.34-acre parcel just south of Bloomington, where just a single house stands, now has the right zoning for the eventual construction of a couple dozen residences.

The developer is Charles Layne LLC with Bynum Fanyo & Associates as the engineering consultant.

In Monroe County’s zoning scheme, the parcel has been rezoned from Estate Residential I (REI) to High Density Residential (HR). The old zoning allowed for just one residence per acre. The new zoning, with some commitments made by the developer, makes for a density of around 4.2 residences per acre.

The news of the rezoning was announced at Wednesday morning’s regular meeting of Monroe County’s board of commissioners. It came with apologies all around.

The Holland Pines rezoning was not the result of a decision made by the three commissioners. It was due to a missed deadline.

When commissioners reached the item on their agenda, Monroe County attorney David Schilling told them the rezoning was already a done deal. The rezoning, Schilling said, had “taken effect by operation of law, and there is no need for further action by the commissioners.”

The rezoning had already taken place because a 90-day window for action by the commissioners had expired. Schilling told commissioners that under the Indiana Code, if a rezoning proposal receives a positive recommendation from the plan commission, but is not acted on by the board of commissioners within 90 days of certification, the rezoning takes effect as if it had been adopted.

The 90-day clock started ticking on Feb. 21, 2020, when the county plan commission’s 5–4 recommendation for approval was certified. That means around May 21, the rezoning took effect.

The rezoning petition was controversial when it was reviewed by the plan commission. In late 2019, commissioners voted 4–3 to recommend against the rezoning, which failed because it did not reach the needed 5-vote majority. Several owners of neighboring properties objected, based on drainage issues, traffic, and the impact on neighborhood character, among other reasons.

When the plan commission voted in February to recommend the rezoning, the tally was just enough to achieve the positive recommendation: 5-4.

Even though public commentary on Wednesday morning would not have affected the thinking of commissioners for their vote—because commissioners had no vote to take—president of the board, Julie Thomas, opened up the public comment channel on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

There was one taker, Jerry Hays, who lives a couple of parcels southeast of the project. Hays said the developer did make several concessions to the neighbors. He could not speak for his neighbors, but thought the plan as proposed is much more “palatable.” He concluded, “All may not be lost.”

Schilling foreshadowed the news of the missed deadline when he led off his remarks to commissioners: “My report is a difficult one to deliver and will be a difficult one for some to hear.” After laying out the legalities, Schilling said, “This oversight has foreclosed…the ability of the commissioners to express their legislative will on the matter.”

Schilling wrapped up with an apology: “And as a member of county staff, I apologize to the public and to the commissioners for the oversight and the result.”

After Schilling finished, the board’s president, Julie Thomas echoed the apology, offering her “deepest apologies to everyone in Monroe County.” Thomas added, “It will not happen again. If we can help it.”

Thomas got an assurance from county senior planner Tammy Behrman that current petitions in the planning staff’s queue would be reviewed to make sure none had 90-day deadlines looming.

Other commissioners also offered their apologies. In her remarks, commissioner Lee Jones said, “County staff has been struggling so much since COVID hit, that it’s not too surprising that something or other got dropped. I’m just very, very sorry that this is what did get dropped.”

Penny Githens said, “None of us are happy about this. It is what it is today.”

Thomas represents the board on the plan commission. Hers was one of the four votes against the rezoning at the February meeting. According to the Feb. 18, 2020 plan commission meeting minutes, the roll call went like this:

Margaret Clements: No.
Trohn Enright-Randolph: No.
Bernie Guerrettaz: Yes.
Geoff McKim: Yes.
Jerry Pittsford: Yes.
Jim Stainbrook: No.
Julie Thomas: No.
Amy Thompson: Yes.
David Warren: Yes.

Leave a Reply