Bloomington zoning map revision process headed towards up-down city council vote in first half of 2021

Public engagement for Bloomington’s zoning map revision process is underway, with three Zoom video-conference meetings now in the books and at least three more now listed on the city’s zoning map project page.

The image alternates between dark gray districts, which are currently zoned PUD, and the colors of the districts to which they’re proposed to be rezoned. The image links to the PUD story map created by the city’s planning staff.

Two meetings are scheduled that will each combine two controversial topics. The first topic is where to put the newly defined R4 district on the map. The second topic is possible changes to the text of the unified development ordinance (UDO), to allow for duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes in all the residential areas of the city.

The first of the R4-“plexes” meetings is set for Thursday this week, starting at 5:30 p.m. The project page also includes a link for a 9 a.m. Thursday “office hour” with a city planner, who will be available to take questions.

Where R4 (Residential Urban) districts are placed on the zoning map is controversial because R4 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.

Another way that “plexes” could be added to older neighborhoods is through a text amendment to the UDO that would change the allowed uses for R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts. Those districts would be changed to allow “plexes” as permitted or conditional uses.

One significant detail about the eventual process—which has emerged over the first set of meetings—involves the lack of flexibility that city councilmembers will have when the map revision reaches them for consideration next year.

Responding to a question to planning staff and the legal department from The Square Beacon, planning and transportation director Scott Robinson said that the city council will have just three options after it receives a recommended map from the plan commission: (1) adopt the proposal; (2) reject the proposal; (3) do nothing for 90 days. If the city council does nothing, the plan commission’s recommendation is enacted automatically.

That means the city council can’t amend the map, then adopt its amended map.

That’s different from changes to the text in the unified development ordinance. The city council could make amendments to the proposed changes to the text recommended by the plan commission, and adopt those changes as amended.

When the plan commission and city council considered the complete overhaul of the UDO last year, any amendment was fair game because the entire UDO was being repealed and replaced.

Based on the timelines that development services manager Jackie Scanlan gave to the plan commission at its Monday meeting, probably sometime in March is when the city council’s 90-day clock will start ticking, after receiving a recommendation from the plan commission. Sometime in January, the plan commission is expected to start considering the zoning revision map and the text amendments.

The question of the council’s ability to amend the zoning revision map, after it receives a recommended map from the plan commission, came up during the plan commission’s Monday meeting.

On Monday, Plan commissioners heard a petition from the Bill C. Brown Revocable Trust, represented by attorney Mike Carmin. Brown wants the plan commission to recommend rezoning 87 acres at Fullerton Pike and I-69, from its current PUD (planned unit development) zoning, to MC (mixed-use corridor).

A PUD is a kind of customized zoning for a specific set of parcels that allows for a mix of uses that could not otherwise be achieved within other existing zoning categories.

Part of the map revision process that’s now being conducted involves the planning staff’s proposed rezoning of around 100 properties, currently designated as PUD, to various other zoning districts. As a part of that process, city planning staff has recommended that the Brown property at Fullerton Pike and I-69 be rezoned to ME (mixed-use employment), not MC as now requested by Brown.

The plan commission didn’t make a recommendation on Monday, and will continue its consideration of the request at its December meeting.

Some plan commissioners seemed inclined to want to consider the property in the context of the zoning map revision, when around 100 properties will be considered for rezoning from PUD to some other zoning district.

Development services manager Jackie Scanlan pointed out that if a PUD property owner wants to advocate for a different zoning district, they can do that during the plan commission’s hearings on the city’s zoning map revision.

But as Scanlan put it, after the plan commission makes its recommendation on the city’s zoning map revision, the city council can vote only “yay or nay” on it.

The process that Brown is using now—requesting that the individual parcel be recommended for a rezoning—would allow for the city council to give separate consideration to Brown’s rezoning request.

Brown doesn’t have a specific development proposal for the property. The memo from his attorney, Mike Carmin, says he’s been approached for possible development of a hotel in the southwest corner of the property, next to I-69. He’s also been approached to develop a large part of the property as a training center for fire and emergency services.

The MC zoning district includes a lot of allowable uses that the ME district does not. Permitted uses in MC, that are not allowed in ME include: art gallery, museum, or library; assisted living facility; bar or dance club; bed and breakfast; building supply store; club or lodge; commercial laundry; community center; continuing care retirement facility; country club; fitness center, large; liquor or tobacco sales; mortuary; pawn shop; recreation, indoor; retail sales, big box; retail sales, large; retail sales, medium; tattoo or piercing parlor; transportation terminal; vehicle fleet operations, large; vehicle fleet operations, small.

Senior zoning planner Eric Greulich, who is the staff member handling Brown’s request for the city, pointed to the city’s comprehensive plan as indicating that the ME district was a better fit.

One of the staff’s concerns about rezoning the property to MC, is that uses like big box retail or a truck stop would be allowed. In response, Carmin pitched the idea of using a “zoning commitment” to exclude certain uses, if the plan commission wanted to ensure that such developments would be excluded.

The reaction of plan commissioners to the rezoning request seemed inclined towards a recommendation of denial for now, but with possible consideration as a part of the zoning map revision. Carmin had initially requested that a second hearing by the plan commission be waived, but by the end of Monday’s session wanted another chance for the plan commission to discuss the issue.

Plan commissioners seemed interested in considering the idea of a “zoning commitment.” They voted unanimously to give the matter a second hearing at their December meeting.

Table: Contrasting allowable uses for MC versus ME

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