87-acre site once mulled as new home for ST Semiconductor may get negotiated rezoning by Bloomington city council

The aerial image, dated April 2020, is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

After nearly becoming a new home for ST Semiconductor in 1988, an 87-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Fullerton Pike and the I-69 has sat undeveloped for more than three decades.

The lack of any development on the site during that time has led owner Bill Brown to ask for a rezoning of the land, from the current planned unit development (PUD) district to mixed-use corridor (MC).

At a plan commission meeting in late 2020, Michael Carmin, who represents Brown, said 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 proposed rezone will find its way in front of the city council in a few weeks.

At their January meeting, commissioners voted affirmatively 6–2–1 to send the rezone request to the council with no recommendation. It’s not a common move, but plan commission president Brad Wisler said at the commission’s January meeting he thinks it’s been done before.

The city planning staff recommended denial of the rezoning based on the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for the area to be an employment center.

The split vote reflected disagreement among the commissioners about how to signal their intent to the city council—about which they had a general consensus.

They did not think the proposal from Brown should be adopted in its current form. But they did not want the city council to see a recommendation of denial from both the plan commission and the plan staff, and because of that, let the proposal die without some additional consideration.

The consensus was put this way by Wisler: “It’s very, very clear to me that what needs to happen here is some negotiation.”

Wisler said, “Negotiating with a nine-member body is very, very difficult.” But that negotiation will likely start with the council’s four-member land use committee. About the smaller group, Wisler said, “It’s less than nine—I think that will be the next-best thing.” Wisler said he wanted to “get it in the hands of the land use committee.”

The message from the plan commission, Wisler said, should be “We want this to move forward, somehow.” For that reason, Wisler felt that a recommendation of denial, which was the planning staff’s recommendation, would probably send the wrong message.

Neil Kopper dissented on the vote for a non-recommendation, because he wanted to make a recommendation for denial. Flavia Burrell dissented because she wanted to make a recommendation for approval. Israel Herrera abstained.

The commission’s split vote on the non-recommendation also reflected the planning staff’s recommendation to deny the rezone request. As part of the citywide zone remapping project, now likely to come in front of the plan commission in February, planning staff agree that Brown’s land should be rezoned from its current PUD designation.

But based on the city’s comprehensive plan, the new zoning recommended by staff is for a mixed-use employment (ME) district, not the MC district Brown wants.

The kind of negotiation that might take place between the city council and the Brown are “zoning commitments” with the owner. The idea would be to approve a rezone to mixed-use corridor (MC) like Brown wants, but exclude specific uses with “zoning commitments.”

The legal possibility of negotiation with the city council emerged at January’s plan commission meeting, when city attorney Mike Rouker corrected the advice he’d given at a previous meeting.

The city council can take more than just an up-or-down vote on the rezoning request, Rouker said in January. The up-or-down city council vote is something that applies to the upcoming citywide zone remapping.

Giving room for negotiation with the city council on “zoning commitments” is the state statute cited by Rouker in January, which says:

During the time a rezoning proposal is being considered by the legislative body [city council] under the 600 or 1500 series of this chapter, the owner may make a new commitment to the legislative body or modify the terms of a commitment that was made when the proposal was being considered by the plan commission.

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 (mixed-use employment) 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 city council wants to ensure that developments with those uses would be excluded.

In 1988, the 87-acre piece of land nearly became a new home for ST Semiconductors, according to reporting from the Herald-Times of that era. The company was looking to move from its location on College Avenue in downtown Bloomington that eventually was redeveloped as student-oriented residential housing—Smallwood, which is now called The Avenue on College.

The deal got as far as a rezoning request that was scheduled to be taken by the city council, but withdrawn, according to H-T reporting. The requested zone change from quarrying to manufacturing park would have allowed for a new ST Semiconductors factory, a mail-order business and other enterprises, according to the H-T.

Brown’s proposal to include a hotel and restaurant at the development was turned down by the plan commission, according to the HT. The proposal that was recommended by the plan commission would have required Brown to widen Fullerton Pike.

ST Semiconductors employed 100 people in 1988, according to the HT. By mid-1991, when the company closed shop, that number was down to 40

In the present-day development landscape, another rezone request, for a different Bill Brown parcel, will be given a first reading at the city council’s Feb. 3 meeting. That one is on the other end of town—the 10-acre Century Village site near the intersection of SR-46 and SR-446.  The Century Village rezone, from PUD to MC, could clear the way for a 240-bed residential development.

Table: Contrasting allowable uses for MC versus ME