On votes that were taken on five different days, starting on May 4, Bloomington’s city council has approved an ordinance that changes the status of duplexes in the basic law of land use in the city.
The final vote came on Thursday (May 13).
In the course of its deliberations, the council considered five different amendments to the ordinance.
Two of them were successful—the one making duplexes a conditional use, instead of a permitted use (Am 02), and the one that imposed a cap of 15 duplexes per year and a two-year 150-foot buffer around parcels that are granted a conditional use permit (Am 03).
Instead of being disallowed in the central residential districts of the city (R1, R2, and R3), duplexes will now be allowed, but subject to a review by the board of zoning appeals for a conditional use permit.
The final amendment—to add consideration of undue impact of traffic to criteria to be considered for granting a conditional use permit (Am 05)—failed on a 3–6 vote. Only Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith supported it.
Sue Sgambelluri, who had joined the trio in supporting the failed effort to disallow duplexes in R1, R2, and R3, did not throw her support to Am 05. She said that the general criteria in the unified development ordinance (UDO) on review of conditional uses were sufficient, without adding conditions that are specific to duplexes.
It was the same split, but flipped, that determined the 6–3 vote on the ordinance as amended. Only Rollo, Sandberg, and Smith voted against it.
In the new R4 (urban residential) district, duplexes will remain as a permitted (by-right) use. R4 will also allow triplexes and quadplexes, as a conditional use. Compared to the unified development ordinance (UDO)—adopted by the city council in late 2019 and ratified by the plan commission in 2020—that makes plexes slightly more restricted in R4.
In R4, the previous version of the UDO allowed duplexes and triplexes as permitted uses and quadplexes as a conditional use. But that version of the UDO did not have any areas of the city designated as R4 area in the citywide zoning map.
The appearance of several areas zoned as R4 is one difference between the old citywide zoning map and the one adopted by the city council on Thursday night.
The other significant difference between the new and the old zoning map is the change of more than 100 planned unit development districts (PUDs) to some basic zoning district. PUDs are a kind of customized zoning.
As the Bloomington’s development services director Jackie Scanlan, pointed out, a PUD is still an eligible zoning district that someone can propose for the new development of a property.
In dissenting from the rest of the council on the vote for the new citywide zoning map, Rollo cited the inclusion of R4 in some of the central residential districts.
Rollo traced the history of the city council’s 2019 rejection of duplexes as allowed uses in central residential districts. He also recounted the introduction for public consideration in fall 2020 of a proposed zoning map that included substantial areas designated as R4.
The revised map that was eventually recommended by the city’s plan commission responded to substantial public objection to the amount of area to designated as R4. The amount of area to be designated as R4 was reduced by more than three-quarters.
Rollo noted that, unlike ordinances that revise the text of the UDO, the council does not have the option to amend and adopt a different citywide zoning map.
About the administration’s proposal that was unveiled in fall 2020, Rollo said, “There clearly was a decision at some point made to repeal the council’s resolve back in 2019, to not use upzoning, in what I would call kind of a broad-brush, rather reckless fashion.” He continued, “I’m quite dismayed by the process.”
Rollo added, “Then again, I know that this is a front-loaded process, and so we can’t amend the maps. So I have to acknowledge that worse maps are possible, if we send it back to the planning commission.”
Sandberg, who had worked with Rollo to try to disallow duplexes in R1, R2, and R3, sounded disheartened, but not combative, in her remarks that preceded her vote against the ordinance on duplexes.
Sandberg said she was grateful that the amendment on caps and buffers for duplexes was approved. She did not consider changing duplexes from permitted use to conditional use to be a compromise.
Sandberg said, “Well, I guess they say that if you reach a compromise, if you’ve done it correctly, nobody is happy. And if that is true, I think this has been a resounding success.”
Sandberg continued, “I do not want to turn this back to the plan commission—largely because this is our responsibility. We are the elected officials. We set the legislative policy that will set our future for future growth.”
Sandberg struck a conciliatory tone, “So with that in mind, and with all the disappointments that I feel, and that I know many of our constituents feel, all I will say is: Let’s go onward to some community healing to try to find that common ground. Those are my feelings about this whole process, which I think has caused quite a bit of pain.” She wrapped up: “And we have work to do.”
Sgambelluri, who twice voted with Rollo, Sandberg and Smith, and once with the majority, framed her vote for the ordinance in terms of tradeoffs. She said, “I think we have installed enough controls and enough governors on this process—between the conditional status, the cap at 15, the buffers we’ve added and existing language in the UDO… that we will be able to control negative impact on neighborhoods. I am hopeful of that.”
Sgambelluri said, “I feel pretty confident this evening saying that you’ve got nine people here who are going to be watching this unfold very closely, and who are sincerely going to watch and see how these duplexes actually play out in our neighborhoods.”
Thursday’s city council work finished off a 10-ordinance package of zoning revisions.