Plan commission recommends putting residential urban districts on the map

On a 7–1 vote at its Monday meeting, Bloomington’s plan commission recommended a new zoning map for the city that includes several areas designated as R4 (Residential Urban) and MS (Student Housing) districts.

Those are two zoning districts that were newly defined in the unified development ordinance (UDO) that was adopted by the city council in 2019, but not yet placed on the zoning map.

The zoning map ordinance would also change more than 100 planned unit developments (PUDs) to a basic zoning district.

Dissenting on the vote was the city council’s representative to the plan commission, Susan Sandberg. The 7–1 tally did not add up to 9, because commissioner Israel Herrera had to leave the meeting early, to attend to another commitment.

The ordinance establishing a new zoning map was the final part of a 10-ordinance package proposed by the city’s planning staff, which would revise the citywide zoning map and the text of the UDO. A public outreach effort on the proposal was conducted in late 2020.

The plan commission had voted on the other nine ordinances over the course of about a month. The first meeting on the zoning package was held on March 8.

After the plan commission’s recommendations are officially communicated to the city council, a 90-day clock starts ticking. If the council does not act on the recommendations within 90 days, the enactment of the zoning changes recommended by the plan commission is automatic.

Monday’s session, which started at 5:30 p.m. wrapped up before 9 p.m.

The meeting was considerably shorter than it might have been. Six different amendments had been proposed to the map ordinance, four of them by the city council’s representative to the plan commission, Susan Sandberg.

If all of the amendments had been discussed, an extra meeting would almost certainly have been needed to finish consideration of the map ordinance.

The first two amendments, proposed by plan commission president Brad Wisler, were quickly adopted without much controversy on unanimous votes by the commission.

None of Sandberg’s four amendments were discussed, three by her own choice.

One of Sandberg’s amendments would have removed any R4 districts from the map, with the idea that the citywide rezoning process should be paused for additional study.

As amended by the plan commission, the proposed ordinance would allow duplexes as a permitted (by-right) use in R4, just like in the other R-districts. But the R4 district, as proposed in the current UDO revision, would allow for higher-density housing forms than the other R-districts.

The planning staff proposal, which the plan commission did not alter, was for R4 also to allow triplexes and quadplexes, but only as conditional uses. That is a change from the UDO as adopted by the city council in 2019, which allowed all the plexes as permitted (by-right) uses in R4.

Sandberg’s amendment removing R4 districts from the map had the same motivation as a text amendment she proposed at a previous meeting, that would have disallowed duplexes as a possible use in the R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and (Residential Small Lot) districts.

The idea behind both amendments was to allow for a pause in the process to allow more time for study and collaboration. Sandberg’s amendment disallowing duplexes in the R-districts was defeated on a 1–8 vote.

On Monday, Sandberg told her colleagues she would not be moving for adoption of Amendment #3, which would delete all R4 areas from the proposed new map.

Sandberg said, “Since [the previous text amendment] was defeated, I choose not to introduce this amendment tonight.”

That set up an expectation that Sandberg would still move her remaining three amendments, all of which proposed the deletion of R4 from a targeted area  of the city.

Amendment #4 would have deleted R4 from an area near the intersection of Jordan and Hunter avenues. Amendment #5 would have deleted R4 from the area along S. Washington street, between 2nd Street to Allen Street. Amendment #6 would have deleted R4 zoning from the area along East Hillside Drive, between the alley at South Palmer to the alley at South Walnut.

Sandberg told her colleagues on the plan commission that the amendments had been suggested to her by constituents.

About Amendment #4, Sandberg said, “This area does not meet the criteria for R4—it’s not along an arterial, the edges of the neighborhood, or immediately adjacent to more intense zoning districts.”

She continued, “It falls within a historic district meant to protect the architectural character and livability of the neighborhood, which has value for the cultural legacy of Bloomington.” Sandberg added, “The introduction of more density so close to the university will accelerate rental conversion, jeopardizing the care and maintenance of these historic homes and altering the livability of this area.”

Sandberg then stated that she would not be moving Amendment #4.

President of the plan commission, Brad Wisler, sought confirmation from Sandberg: “OK, so you choose not to introduce Amendment #4?” Sandberg’s reply: “That is correct.”

Amendment #5 played out in similar fashion. Sandberg said, “The area is already highly rental and is the best example of historic fabric in the neighborhood. It already contains a larger variety of housing options than R4 zoning would offer—with efficiency apartments, small one-bedroom, apartments, duplexes, and room for rent.” Sandberg wrapped up her comments on Amendment #5 by saying, “But again, at this time, I choose not to introduce Amendment #5.”

Sandberg did move Amendment #6.  But it did not get a seconding motion from another plan commissioner. So it died for lack of a second.

About the amendments, which got no discussion on Monday, Sandberg said, “I offer them only as an illustration as to why many of us felt that it was important to take a pause with respect to constituent concerns surrounding some of these more delicate areas,  that we are not quite finished with the designating of R4 areas.”

Sandberg wrapped up saying, “So again, I respectfully thank everyone for their time and consideration, at least reading through the amendments.”

When the 10-ordinance package reaches the city council, there will be less flexibility for city councilmembers to amend the plan commission’s proposed map changes compared to the text changes.

For changes to the text, the state code outlines what happens “if the legislative body rejects or amends the [text amendment],…” On either scenario, the proposal has to go back to the plan commission for comment.

For changes to the map, the state code does not contemplate amendment by the city council.  The two options described are what happens if the city council adopts the proposal, as certified by the plan commission, or rejects the proposal. There’s no mention of the possibility that the city council could amend the plan commission’s map proposal.

City attorney Mike Rouker has stated that the city council will have to vote the plan commission’s proposed map ordinance up or down. There’s not flexibility for the city council amend the proposed map and adopt an amended map.