Final climate action plan accepted by Bloomington city council, an evolution from draft

At its regular meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously to accept the city’s climate action plan.

Presenting the plan to the council was Lauren Travis, the city’s assistant director for sustainability. The plan is an advisory document intended to guide city activities and funding priorities, and to establish science-based targets to reduce Bloomington greenhouse gas emissions, Travis told councilmembers.

Reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is one of the goals in the plan that councilmember Matt Flaherty cited as praiseworthy. He said, “This is the first time, I believe, that a city document of some kind, even if we’re just accepting it, not formally adopting it, has sort of softly committed to a net-zero emissions target by 2050.”

Flaherty contrasted the commitment to net-zero by 2050 in the accepted plan to previous commitments: “Most of our past resolutions, commitments, our signatory to various things, is in line with the Paris agreement, which is a 2-degree warming target, and 80-percent emission reductions by 2050.”

Carbon neutrality, or net-zero, means that whatever emissions Bloomington produces as a community would be offset, so that the net impact of greenhouse gas emission is zero.

A draft of the plan was presented to the city council’s climate action and sustainability committee in mid-November of 2020.

By The Square Beacon’s count, the number of recommended actions in the plan grew from 266 in the draft to 291 in the version accepted by the city council on Wednesday.

Among the new recommended actions in the final plan is to establish a city policy requiring the review of all large capital expenditures against the GHG emission reduction and climate adaptation goals of the climate action plan.

Another new recommended action in the final plan is to encourage development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). According to the plan, building additional ADUs where they are compatible with residential neighborhoods will create “additional housing options for the City’s workforce, seniors, families with changing needs, and others for whom ADUs present an affordable housing option.”

Other recommendations added to the plan between the draft and final version include: enacting a gas-powered lawn equipment phase-out ordinance; establishing policies supporting all-electric buildings; bolstering the region’s food supply, processing abilities, and distribution capacity; integrating climate change impact awareness into interactions with homeless community members; and establishing a program to encourage new entrepreneurial businesses that use recycled material feedstock, among others.

Several of the recommended actions got wording tweaks between the draft and the final version. Among them was a draft recommendation to “Eliminate cars from high-density districts by creating car-free pedestrian zones, limiting vehicles on certain days of the week, and implementing congestion parking pricing.”

That’s been replaced with something that sounds a bit softer: “Determine appropriate locations for car-free pedestrian zones in high-density areas.”

Another wording tweak was made to a recommendation on parking minimums in the city’s unified development ordinance. The draft version of the recommendation was: “Eliminate minimum parking requirements from unified development ordinance…”

The revised wording in the final version is not as strong: “Reevaluate minimum parking requirements in the unified development ordinance…”

Also getting a wording tweak was a recommendation about neighborhood-scale development: “Amend zoning code to allow and encourage “mini city centers” through the development of Neighborhood Commercial Districts… ”

The revised version does not use the term “mini city centers” or specify the amendment of zoning code as the tool to achieve the result: “Encourage development of projects within mixed use districts that promote a combination of neighborhood-scale residential, commercial, and institutional uses…”

A side-by-side comparison of the recommendations in the draft compared to the final version accepted by the city council on Wednesday is included below with an embedded Google Sheet. The current view is filtered to highlight the contrasts.

The consultant who has been working on Bloomington’s climate action plan is Pale Blue Dot out of Maplewood, Minnesota.

The company has also prepared a climate action plan for Dubuque, Iowa. Bloomington’s initial $98,000 contract with Pale Blue Dot, was signed in late December 2019 and ran through the end of 2020.