Zoning law revisions considered by Bloomington plan commission: 3 down, 7 to go

Proposed amendments to the text of Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO), and proposed changes to the citywide zoning map, were scrutinized by the public in late 2020.

The insertion of the word “all” in one spot is the only change to the UDO made by Ordinance ZO-02-21. It was unanimously recommended for adoption by the plan commission Monday night. The more controversial aspects of the 10-ordinance package are not expected to be heard until March 25 at the soonest.

Revised versions of the proposed text and map changes have now landed in front of the city’s nine-member plan commission.

In about an hour on Monday night, the city’s plan commission dispatched a handful of the more non-controversial zoning changes.

Votes on three proposed changes came after commissioners received an overview of the whole package from development services manager Jackie Scanlan.

Plan commission president Brad Wisler remarked, “We’re off to a pretty good start here.”

To capture all the proposed changes, including the map revision, a package of 10 ordinances has been proposed. Amendments to zoning ordinances can still be drafted and considered by plan commissioners, before the plan commission’s recommendation on the whole package is sent to the city council.

On Monday, for three of the ordinances, plan commissioners voted unanimously to suspend their rules and to waive a required second hearing, and to recommend them to the city council. That means the plan commission is done with those three ordinances.

Based on the tentative schedule sketched out by development services manager Jackie Scanlan, the complete package, as recommended by the plan commission, will appear in front of the city council sometime in April.

Plan commissioners are supposed to try to submit their proposed amendments no later than March 17. That will allow time for their consideration at meetings that are slotted into a tentative schedule that commissioners settled on at Monday’s meeting.

That schedule calls for the most controversial of the proposed ordinances—involving duplexes, triplexes and quad-plexes—to be heard on March 25. It will certainly be heard no sooner than that, according to plan commission president Brad Wisler. The hearing for the ordinance that affects the citywide zoning map is tentatively set for March 29.

The plan commission will meet on March 22 to consider as many as five ordinances that are not necessarily expected to generate a lot of controversy: ZO-03-21, ZO-04-21, ZO-06-21, ZO-07-21, and ZO-08-21.

Two dates in April—April 1 and April 5—are being held in reserve to be used if they’re needed.

Wisler asked that plan staff keep plan commissioners apprised of public comment as it arrives through the forms available on the project website or through emailed messages.  The request was made in the context of the March 17 deadline for plan commissioners to submit potential amendments to the remaining seven ordinances.

Wisler said, “If amendments are going to be offered, they need to be authored by a commissioner. And so it’s important that we all sort of stay on top of the public comment as it comes in, in case there is something in there that does inspire an additional amendment.”

The text amendments can be further amended by the city council before adoption. The map, in contrast, can get only an up-or-down vote by the council.

The three ordinances heard on Monday were: ZO-01-21 (Across the whole UDO—technical corrections for scrivener’s errors, punctuation, references, and/or citations); ZO-02-21 (Chapter 2, Zoning Districts—technical corrections, not substantive changes); and ZO-05-21 (Chapter 5, Subdivision Standards—technical corrections, not substantive changes).

Responding to a question, Scanlan said that a change in one place, from a 10-foot setback to a 15-foot setback, was included in the ordinance covering scrivener’s errors (ZO-01-21), because it didn’t match the same specification elsewhere in the code.

Ordinance ZO-02-21, which was wrapped up on Monday, added a single word to the UDO.

The original sentence read: “Portions of the building façade facing the street… shall step back from the lower story vertical facade/wall plane a minimum of 15 feet.”

The revision clarified all the portions had to step back: “All portions of the building façade facing the street… shall step back from the lower story vertical facade/wall plane a minimum of 15 feet.”

Responding to a question from a plan commissioner, Scanlan said the developer of the Johnson Creamery project had asked if the requirement applied to all portions of the façade, and that’s why plan staff thought it was worth clarifying.

The planning staff’s proposal has been modified a lot since last year, in response to public reaction.

In the proposal that is being considered by the plan commission, duplexes are still allowed in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot) and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts, but only as a conditional use. Approval for conditional use entails a public process in front of the zoning board of appeals and an attempt to contact neighborhood groups.

Under the new proposal, duplexes are also restricted to conditional use in the R4 (Residential Urban) district. As defined in the current UDO, duplexes are allowed as a by-right use in R4 districts.

The R4 district is a new one, created in the UDO revision that was adopted by the city council in late 2019, and confirmed by the plan commission in early 2020.

Compared to the late-2020 proposal, the R4 district has also been scaled down in terms of the amount of proposed map area. Compared to the late-2020 proposal, the city zoning map that the plan commission could consider on March 29 has about a quarter the amount of R4 area.