UDO action highlights: No notices for by-right ADUs, no reduction in parking max for medical clinics

After setting a stop time of 10:30 p.m. for its meeting on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council managed to grind through eight ordinances that change the city’s basic law on land use, which is the unified development ordinance (UDO).

Wednesday’s meeting ended just as the clock hit half past 10 o’clock.

The votes on all eight ordinances were unanimous on the nine-member council, even if the votes on some proposed amendments were split.

A few of the ordinances were technical corrections or clarifications that were so uncontroversial that they received no council debate or public comment, before passing on a 9–0 vote.

That means out of the 10-ordinance package that was recommended to the city council by the city’s plan commission, just two pieces of legislation are left for consideration.

The two remaining ordinances, which are controversial, will get their first deliberations on Wednesday (April 29April 28) next week, at a committee-of-the-whole session.

One of the disputed ordinances covers the allowed use of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in residential neighborhoods where they’re currently not allowed.

The other ordinance that’s expected to generate contentious debate is the proposed new citywide zoning map. The map includes areas designated as R4 (urban residential), which is a new kind of district that includes triplexes and quadplexes among its allowable uses.

On Wednesday, two of the highlights of the council’s deliberations were votes on two amendments, to different ordinances, each of which failed on a 1–8 vote, getting support only from the author of the amendment.

The failed amendment to Ordinance 21-17, proposed by councilmember Dave Rollo, would have preserved a requirement of legal notice to neighbors by builders of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), even though they are allowed by right.

Council action on Wednesday means the ADU noticing requirement is now removed from the UDO. Ordinance 21-17 changed a range of elements to Chapter 3 of the UDO on use regulations.

The failed amendment to Ordinance 21-18, proposed by councilmember Steve Volan, would have reduced the parking maximum for medical clinics from 5 to 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.

Wednesday’s council action means the UDO parking maximum for medical clinics is 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. Ordinance 21-18 changed a range of elements to Chapter 4 of the UDO on development standards and incentives.

Getting a brief discussion on Wednesday, but not generating a proposed amendment was Ordinance 21-20, about administration and procedures, which raised the threshold for a “by-right” site-plan review in front of the plan commission, from 30 dwelling units to 50.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city zoning planner Ryan Robling said the change to the threshold would have affected only one out of 11 site plans from 2016 through 2020. The result of council action on Wednesday means the UDO threshold for plan commission review of a site plan is 50 dwelling units.

Notification about ADUs

The city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) says that the construction of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is an allowed accessory use in the R-districts. An ADU is an additional residential dwelling unit on the same lot as a single-family dwelling—either within the same building as the single-family dwelling unit or in a detached building.

An accessory use, like an ADU, is permitted only in support of some use that is designated in the UDO’s “Allowed Use Table” as permitted on the site.

Because they’re currently an allowed use, and not subject to a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals (BZA)—like a conditional use would be—ADUs are often described as “by right.”

Until Wednesday night’s city council action, the UDO also required that nearby property owners be given notice about ADU construction. A notice had to be mailed to “all persons owning land within 300 linear feet from any property line of the parcel for which an ADU is being requested.”

Ordinance 21-17, as recommended by the plan commission, deleted the noticing requirement for ADUs—because they are “by right.” There is no public hearing or meeting where the ADU gets presented, so there’s no chance to remonstrate or otherwise affect the outcome.

A case for eliminating the noticing requirement was made by city attorney Mike Rouker. He pointed to the confusion that can result for the person who receives such a notice, about something that is happening, against which they have no opportunity to remonstrate.

Rouker said, “I think part of the confusion is that it’s so unusual, … bordering on bizarre, to require a legal notice to a person who has no legal rights.”

He continued, “When that letter comes, I think it’s very surprising to people. When you receive a letter, formally stating that there’s a petition, you expect that you have some sort of say or voice, or that there’s a hearing, where you can be heard. And when you discover that there isn’t, that’s just very unusual.”

Rouker added there are no other by-right petitions that require a noticing requirements. Rouker called the requirement “vestigial” from the time when ADUs were allowed only as a conditional use, and there was a required hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals.

Rollo advocated for the cause, based on the idea that even if a neighbor could not affect the outcome by attending a hearing, the notice could serve as an invitation to dialogue, which could result in a better result for both neighbors and the ADU builder.

“It seems to me it’s just simply a courtesy meant to increase the likelihood of a better outcome. I realize that it might lead to confusion, but I think that depends on the nature notice,” Rollo said. Rollo suggested that the wording of the notice could be chosen to mitigate against confusion.

In her response to the amendment, councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said, “I’m entirely opposed to this amendment. It makes no sense to require notification for something that is by right. Since when do we legislate courtesy?”

Council president Jim Sims said, “I understand the intent. I just don’t see the need. And the last thing I’ll say is: I think it’s kind of weird…to require notice for one thing that’s permitted, but none of the others.”

Parking maximums

Ordinance 21-18, as recommended by the plan commission, raised the maximum number of parking spaces for medical clinics from 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area to 5 spaces.

The failed amendment, proposed by councilmember Steve Volan, would have preserved the medical clinic parking maximum at 3.3 spaces. The result of Wednesday night’s action is that the UDO parking maximum for medical clinic parking is 5 spaces.

The idea behind increasing the maximum number of spaces from 3.3 to 5 per 1,000 spare feet was presented by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. “Medical clinic is a use that we’ve seen numerous times request variances and be able to show that, because of the way they operate, with overlapping appointments…, plus staff, that they need more parking than many of our other uses.”

When he proposed his amendment, Volan said, “I hear what Ms. Scanlon says about medical clinics regularly asking for variances for more parking per 1,000 square feet. But 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet is already a high standard for parking.”

Volan continued by saying that raising the parking maximum goes against the spirit of the city’s climate action plan, which the council had voted formally to accept that same night. Volan also pointed to the city’s comprehensive plan goal of optimized parking.

The parking spaces at medical clinics would be used during business hours, and would increase impermeable surface, Volan said. Volan concluded that medical clinics should have to get a variance, if they can’t satisfy client parking demand with 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet.

Other councilmembers were not persuaded by Volan’s argument.

Ron Smith said, “I’m going to oppose the amendment.” Smith continued, “In my previous job, working with people who were infirm, often clinics really did need a little extra space.” Smith added the 5-space maximum would make it easier for a clinic to have a few extra spaces and make it easier for the general public and people who need to use it.”

Councilmember Piedmont-Smith said, “As much as I hate to have more surface parking, I will also be opposed to this…, because of the use.” She added, “Even the most ardent cyclists, if they have access to a car, they’re probably going to drive, if they feel sick and go to a medical appointment.”

Remaining Ordinances

The city council will meet in a committee session on Wednesday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. to take a first look at the ordinance on plexes and the citywide zoning map.

Checklist as of April 21, 2021

Ordinance Council Committee Discussion Council Vote
Ord 21-15 Technical Corrections
Ord 21-16 Ch. 2 – Zoning Districts
Ord 21-17 Ch. 3 – Use Regulations
Ord 21-18 Ch. 4 – Development Standards & Incentives
Ord 21-19 Ch. 5 – Subdivision Standards
Ord 21-20 Ch. 6 – Administration & Procedures
Ord 21-21 Ch. 7 – Definitions
Ord 21-22 Deletion of RE Zoning District
Ord 21-23 Duplex, Triplex, and Fourplex
Ord 21-24 Proposed Zoning Map