Rezone for replacement of Brownstone Terrace gets plan commission recommendation, now goes to Bloomington city council

Aerial view from Monroe County GIS system of the Brownstone Terrace in spring 2020.
Aerial view from Monroe County GIS system of the Brownstone Terrace in spring 2020.

On Monday night, a project that would replace the predominantly student-rented Brownstone Terrace with a larger student-oriented development called The Standard got a unanimous recommendation of approval from Bloomington’s plan commission.

The specific request was for a rezoning. That’s why it now requires approval by Bloomington’s city council.

The rezoning request is from planned unit development (PUD) to a new zoning classification in the recently adopted unified development ordinance (UDO), which is multi-use student housing (MS).

The Standard would demolish several two-story buildings with a total of 120 apartments. The PUD zoning for the current project was approved by the plan commission in 1984.

In place of the current development, The Standard would build a new student-oriented, residential development with 433 apartments and 1,072 bedrooms in five- and six-story buildings. A parking garage with 681 parking spaces would be built as a part of the development. The project would fit within the zoning specifications of the requested MS zoning.

The developer, Landmark Properties, is making a commitment to affordable housing that’s about the same as one of the incentives for developers in the new UDO. Landmark says it will make 15 percent of the total bedrooms permanently income-restricted to households earning less than 120 percent of the HUD area median income for Monroe County. But Landmark is not taking advantage of the incentive to make the buildings one story taller.

Monday’s consideration of the request was the second of two hearings on the project by the plan commission. The only wrinkle at the second hearing was a new condition, which was incorporated into the plan commission’s recommendation for approval.

The condition reads: “The petitioner must coordinate with Bloomington Transit on the incorporation of a shuttle pick-up and shuttle service. No private shuttle service is allowed.”

About the new condition on shuttle services, senior planner Eric Greulich told commissioners that it relates to a couple of previous projects, both PUDs, about which there was a lot of conversation about contributions and funding to Bloomington Transit (BT) to facilitate a shuttle.

One of those projects is the Collegiate Development Group project on North Walnut at the location of the former Motel 6, which is planned to include around 750 bedrooms.  The other project that includes a commitment for BT funding is by Trinitas on the west side of town, which would eventually add around 1,000 bedrooms.

Greulich told commissioners that Landmark is not proposing a shuttle with this project, and no details are attempted to be specified in the condition. Greulich said, “The condition is not implying that they must make a contribution to Bloomington Transit. It’s simply stating that they are not allowed to operate a private shuttle.”

During public commentary a three-block-away neighbor to the west, Sarah Alexander, commented on transit and pedestrian access to the location. Alexander supported the zoning request. But she pointed out that the Route #1 bus runs only once an hour, even if it’s a great bus to get to the Indiana University campus, which is where she works.

The more frequent bus, Alexander said, is Route #6. But to get to Route #6 you have to cross College Avenue and Walnut Streets. “As I have complained repeatedly, there is no crossing between 10th and 17th [on those two streets],” she said.

One objection aired during public comment centered on the category to which the property would be rezoned, which is multi-use student housing (MS). Two commenters said it should remain planned unit development (PUD) and that changes should be considered within the PUD category.

On the question of PUD versus MS zoning, Mark Figg with Figg Investment, stated that he was trying to to understand the reason for the rezoning. The work of revising the unified development ordinance had just been done and the idea now was supposed to be to revise the actual zoning map according to the comprehensive plan, Figg said.

Figg said, “I feel like this is a bit of a spot zone.” Figg said he was not saying that MS zoning would not eventually be a part of the map at this location. Figg said, “Obviously, there’s some inside information there that we’re not privy to.” Figg said he’d prefer that the changes to the zoning be handled in the context of a PUD.

In response to Figg’s concern about process, Greulich and development services manager Jackie Scanlan both said that there was no difference in the required hearings and approvals for a PUD compared to the new MS zoning category.

Greulich added that during the initial conversations with Landmark about amending the PUD and what standards to use as the basis for the PUD zoning, planning staff had recommended using the mixed use student housing district standards. The proposal met those standards exactly, he said.

As Greulich put it: “This was going to be another single-use PUD, which is not what the PUD process is supposed to be for. It’s supposed to be to incorporate mixed-use projects, which this is not. This is a single-use development.”

Greulich summed up by saying, “That is exactly matching the intent of the student housing district, meets all the standards of the student housing district. So it should be zoned exactly what it is looking to accomplish. So those are those are the reasons why they are going forward with a mixed-use student housing request rather than the PUD amendment.

The city council will have 90 days to make a decision on the plan commission’s positive recommendation. Absent a decision by the city council to affirm or reject the recommendation within 90 days, the rezoning change will take effect by default.