Rezone request for 87 acres in Bloomington’s southwest tip continued by plan commission into 2021

On a vote taken by Bloomington plan commissioners in mid-December, a rezone request for an 87-acre parcel now zoned as a PUD (planned unit development) got continued to January’s commission meeting.

The request was first heard by Bloomington’s nine-member plan commission in November.

The planning staff’s position is that the commission should make a recommendation to the city council against the requested rezoning of the Bill C. Brown parcel at Fullerton Pike and I-69. The request is to change the zoning from its current PUD designation to MC (mixed-use corridor).

The owner’s position is that the existing zoning has contributed to the parcel’s lack of development over the last 30 years.

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

The general zoning map revision process that’s now being conducted by the city includes the planning staff’s proposed rezoning of around 100 properties, which are currently designated as PUD. As a part of that process, the Brown property is recommended to be rezoned to ME (mixed-use employment), which is not the MC district that Brown wants.

The time between December and the plan commission’s first meeting of 2021, which is set for Jan. 11, is expected to be used by planning staff and the owner of the property to hammer out a list of zoning commitments in connection with the proposed MC zoning. The commitments would prevent some land uses that city planning staff want to avoid, based on the city’s comprehensive plan.

Based on their mid-December deliberations, plan commissioners are probably willing to make a positive recommendation to the city council, if the zoning commitments can be nailed down.

Dissenting on the continuation was interim city engineer Neil Kopper, who sits on the plan commission as an ex officio member.

Kopper said he had concerns about creating a list and cutting land uses out of one zoning district, instead of just using a different district.

The city’s new engineer, Andrew Cibor, whose hire was announced in early December, will start on Jan. 11, according to the city. That would make the plan commission’s first meeting of the year part of Cibor’s first day of work when he returns to the city.

Based on the commission’s November information packet, 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.

At the plan commission’s December meeting, commissioner Chris Cockerham said that when the plan for I-69 was being developed Brown’s property was identified as having a lot of great development potential for its currently zoned use. But Cockerham added that it has not been developed in 30 years.

Cockerham continued by saying that the land had gone through the height of the market in 2018 and 2019 without being developed: “It’s been battle tested on the market,” Cockerham said, but it’s still undeveloped. He said he supports looking at adding some additional uses to the property.

During public commentary time at the December meeting, Clark Greiner, who is business development director for the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, weighed in for increased flexibility of land uses on the site. “We support zoning flexibility,” he said, adding that the zoning flexibility should “work for the property that enables the development to benefit the community.”

Greiner talked about the fact that with future development of the land, it’s expected that a dedicated road would need to be constructed, connecting Fullerton Pike to the medical park on the north end of the parcel.

Carmin pegs the cost of constructing the road at $2.6 million. Greiner said the BEDC supports a rezoning that preserves the employment-based uses, but adds mixed-use flexibility where development would also be the impetus to fund the cost of the new road.

One potential source of public money to pay for the new road would be TIF funds. The parcel is now a part of Bloomington’s consolidated TIF district. Current uses of city TIF funds include Switchyard Park, the IU Health hospital site redevelopment, parking garages, and the potential Trades District technology center, among other projects.

Carmin concluded in December that TIF money won’t be used to build the new road on the Brown parcel, and that it would only get built with private money. That’s why the zoning needs to be established in a way that encourages the kind of development that will allow a private developer to afford to build the road, Carmin said.

The MC zoning district preferred by Brown 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.

At both the November and December plan commission meetings, senior zoning planner Eric Greulich pointed to the city’s comprehensive plan as indicating that the ME district is a better fit.

One of the staff’s concerns about rezoning the property to MC, is that land uses like big-box retail or a truck stop would be allowed.

That’s where a list of “zoning commitments” could come in—to exclude certain uses, if the plan commission wants to ensure that developments with those uses would be excluded.

At the December plan commission meeting, city staff seemed lukewarm to the idea of using zoning commitments to constrain a MC district, as opposed to just rezoning it as ME.

Greulich pointed to the MC uses that are not allowed in the ME district—like big-box retail and vehicle-oriented uses like car dealerships, car washes, or vehicle fueling stations. Those are the kinds of uses that the staff don’t think are consistent with the employment center type uses called for in the city’s comprehensive plan, Greluich said.

The idea of eliminating those land uses through zoning commitments accomplishes almost the same thing as rezoning it to an ME district, Greulich said.

Development services manager Jackie Scanlan said that the concerns that Brown and Carmin have about the feasibility of the area as an employment center, the size of the parcel and prospects of road construction should be raised in a different context from a rezone request. Scanlan said, “Those are issues that need to be raised when that future land use is determined, which was done more than two years ago [when the comprehensive plan was revised].”

Scanlan said that a rezone request is not the right venue for those concerns. It is misplaced, Scanlan said, to ask the plan commission and the city council to rezone land to a category that doesn’t match the long-term land use policy that was adopted just two years ago.

Table: Contrasting allowable uses for MC versus ME