The first two public presentations about a zoning map revision for the city of Bloomington are in the books.
More are planned for the week after next. Dates will be posted on the zoning map project web page.
Tuesday night’s presentation by the city’s development services manager, Jackie Scanlan, included an introduction to the online tools that city planners have built for the project.
Also on Tuesday, Scanlan gave an overview of the mapping project, which comes after last year’s update to the text of the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO).
That text update included the creation of some new zoning districts, like R4 (Residential Urban) and MS (Mixed-Use Student Housing), which don’t yet appear anywhere on the zoning map of the city.
A developer has already requested that the Brownstone Terrace, south of the Indiana University football stadium, be rezoned to MS, so that it can be replaced with a larger student-oriented housing development. That request has been recommended for approval by the plan commission and will appear on an upcoming city council agenda.
During Thursday’s presentation, which focussed on the MS zoning district, Scanlan said it’s important to proactively rezone parcels to MS, based on the city’s comprehensive plan, and not just respond in a reactive way to petition requests.
While the placement of proposed MS zoning districts on the map was based on the city’s comprehensive plan, spots on the map for the R4 district were more or less calculated. The calculation was based on those lots in existing R2 and R3 districts that have less than the minimum lot size for R3 districts, and that can be analyzed as a cluster.
The R4 district is controversial because it includes duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes as by-right, permitted uses, which some residents are opposed to allowing in areas that have up to now allowed only single-family houses. The “plexes” controversy associated with the R4 district was somewhat circumvented during last year’s text update to the UDO, because the R4 zoning district did not yet exist anywhere on the zoning map.
Not avoided last year was the controversy about plexes in the text of the permitted uses for R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts.
Last year, the city council amended the text of the UDO that was recommended by the plan commission, to disallow plexes in any of the R1, R2, or R3 districts, even on a conditional use.
In this round of public engagement, the planning staff is proposing to revisit the question of plexes, which could wind up in front of the plan commission and the city council in 2021.
The current proposal is to allow duplexes as permitted uses in R1, R2, R3, and R4. Triplexes would be allowed as conditional uses in R2 and R3, and permitted in R4. Four-plexes would be allowed as conditional use in R3 and permitted in R4.
According to Scanlan on Tuesday night, a common reaction to the current plexes proposal is an allusion to last year’s contentious community debate on the question. That question was decided by the city council against plexes. “We have been hearing a lot that the council already denied this,” Scanlan said.
Scanlan pointed to the different composition of the city council and the changed circumstances of the world.
The question of plexes will get a dedicated presentation probably the week after next. Dates will be posted on the project website, Scanlan said. “We will, I’m sure, delve into lots and lots of questions about plexes.”
During the first two presentations, Scanlan fielded questions submitted by attendees in the chat window of the Zoom platform. She said when the plan commission and city council hold their meetings on the topic, traditional public commentary would be allowed.
Calculating R4 districts
Planner Ryan Robling described on Tuesday how the proposed R4 districts were drawn up.
Robling said potential R4-sized parcels were identified from currently zoned R2 and R3 parcels that are less than the minimum lot area for R3—that’s 5,000 square feet. Parcels 4,999 square feet or smaller were identified, and that collection was subjected to a cluster analysis, he said.
To identify clusters, a 100-foot buffer was drawn around the parcels that had been identified as R4-sized. Any other R4-sized parcels inside that buffer could help to qualify it as a cluster. More than one other R4-sized parcel had to be inside the buffer in order to qualify it as a cluster, Robling said.
The zoning district lines were drawn from clusters to the nearest right-of-way, Robling said, which was generally a street but sometimes an alley, to create a continuous zoning district.
The R4 district is described in the UDO as “intended to accommodate residential uses on small urban scale lots that offer a diverse mix of housing opportunities consistent with the comprehensive plan and other adopted plans.”
On Tuesday, Scanlan responded to chat window questions on a couple of occasions about the reason planning staff is revisiting the question of plexes in residential neighborhoods. Here’s one of her responses:
So yes, it did go to the council previously. But it isn’t the same council, there are four new members. It also isn’t the same world we lived in the last time it went before the council. Things are a lot worse for a lot of people. Our housing is not getting any better. Doing nothing is upholding the status quo, which is fine for some here in town, and not so great for others. Plexes aren’t going to solve all problems. And we have never purported for that to be true. We just think that they could be a good tool in a set of tools to offer options for people to be able to live out some of the values that the comprehensive plan holds for the community. And again, we may not all agree on how to reach those values.
The allowed land uses in various zoning districts in the UDO that was approved by the city council last year appear in the Allowed Use Table.
Scanlan pointed to the fact that plexes already exist in Bloomington: “And as we’ve said before, and all of you know, we have duplexes in town, they’re already here, and they’re great. And they’re not causing problems in the single family, neighborhoods, even those that are rented.”
In the classification scheme of the American Community Survey, plexes are single-unit attached dwellings.
Here’s how Bloomington’s relative percentages of housing types stack up against some other cities: