At its regular Monday meeting, Bloomington’s plan commission completed the first round of its deliberations on a 140-acre rezone request for a tract of raw land in southwest Bloomington.
The property is located east of Weimer Road, and west of the RCA Community Park. It’s also west of some land owned by the Monroe County government. The county-owned land has received some discussion as a possible location of a new county jail facility.
The planned unit development (PUD) rezone of the property, which is proposed by Sudbury Development Partners, LLC, would allow up to 6,000 units of housing to be constructed, in five different neighborhoods over the course of the next eight years.
Commissioners voted unanimously to put the item on their Aug. 14 agenda for another hearing.
By the time of the August meeting, it’s possible that a new regional housing study will have been released. Also hoped for by the time of the second hearing is a utilities study for the development area that is being done by city of Bloomington utilities (CBU).
Another set of information, which will eventually help refine the details of the project, is a traffic study that the development team will be conducting.
A PUD is a zoning district that is custom-made for a particular site, and is meant to encourage “new and imaginative concepts in urban design and land development,” according to Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO).
Even though it departs from the standard requirements of the UDO, a PUD takes as a starting point some standard zoning district to define its regulations. For the Summit District PUD there are two base zoning districts: mixed-use neighborhood scale (MN) and residential high-density Multifamily (RH).
On Monday, plan commissioners heard a range of concerns from planning staff, as well as immediately adjacent neighbors in the Arbor Ridge development, and from neighbors who live on the north-south running Weimer Road. (It’s pronounced WEE-mur.)
Based on Monday’s plan commission discussion and remarks from the petitioner’s team, the Aug. 14 plan commission discussion could be followed by a third hearing in September.
A common thread running through the remarks from the development team on Monday was their goal for that meeting—to get feedback, which they would use to go back to their plan and refine it.
Angela Parker, who is the attorney development team, put it like this: “We really are looking forward to your comments and feedback and hope that we can get that tonight and really listen to what your concerns and ideas and vision are for this.” She called the meeting an occasion to “hit the pause button.”
The sheer density of the proposal was a topic addressed at the public mic by nearby resident Vivian Furnish, who noted that the proposal covers about 1 percent of Bloomington’s land area, but would, by her calculations, make up 15 percent of Bloomington’s housing stock, if it were to be built.
As the evening’s deliberations were wrapping up, plan commissioner Tim Ballard noted Furnish’s remarks as making “a very good point.” Ballard called the proposal “highly dense compared to the land that it’s going to cover.”
Ballard told petitioners that he wanted to hear the density issue addressed at the plan commission’s August meeting.
Ballard also hoped that a pending housing study would be available by the time of the plan commission’s next meeting. That will be an update to a study released by the Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) four years ago. [September 2019 Indiana Uplands Regional Housing Study]
The updated ROI housing study is expected to be released in the next couple of weeks.
Another pending study got a mention from Parker at Monday’s plan commission’s meeting. She said that there’s a utility infrastructure study (which is being undertaken by CBU), that she hopes will be complete by the end of July.
One of the big issues confronting the developers is the need to add basic infrastructure, like sewers and roads. For example, the north-south running Adams Street is planned for extension southward, from where it currently stubs out, down to the vicinity of Countryside Lane.
Tyler Ridge, president of The Ridge Group, and managing member of Sudbury Development Partners LLC, weighed in on the topic of infrastructure buildout. “The need for this housing and infrastructure can only happen if the city participates in the main backbone—or the public improvements and utilities…”
About the extensions of Sudbury Lane and Adams Street, Ridge said that whatever the configuration is for the southern part of the development, “We will need support on these roadways.”
Parker called city of Bloomington support and funding of infrastructure “a really important ingredient” for the project.
One potential source of city funding that could be tapped, with the approval of the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC), comes from tax increment financing (TIF). The Summit District PUD lies within the boundaries of Bloomington’s consolidated TIF district.
The RDC has already committed $30 million in TIF funding to the redevelopment of the former site of the IU Health hospital, now known as the Hopewell neighborhood. Hopewell is located about a mile and a half to the northeast of the Summit District project.
The phasing of the new road construction for Summit District will depend in part on the outcome of a traffic study that the development team will soon start. It is supposed to include the time frame after Indiana University’s fall session starts.
Travis Vencel, with Sullivan Development, described the challenges associated with studying the traffic patterns, because of the 8-year timeframe for the project. He contrasted it with a conventional simple parcel with two entrances on one road, where 250 units will be built. It would be straightforward to analyze the impact on that one road.
But for the Summit District project, Vencel said, there’s more than one road and more than one development area in the mix. That means the timing of the road construction has to be analyzed. Vencell said: “If we build this road first, how does that affect the traffic count? If we build that road last, how does it affect that traffic count?”
Vencel walked plan commissioners through the schematics for the five neighborhoods that are planned for the area. Based on Vencel’s remarks during his presentation, the next refinement of the proposal could be less dense than what was described in Monday’s meeting information packet.
The densest part of the proposal includes buildings as tall as 10 stories, right across a road from an existing development called Arbor Ridge. Several residents of the Arbor Ridge neighborhood attended Monday’s plan commission meeting, in order to voice their opposition to a land use so intense, which would obstruct their view.
A new road, the extension of Sudbury Lane, is intended to be the main buffer between the existing development and the new buildings, Vencel said. He said that one way to help mitigate the impact would be to move some earth to reduce the level of the ground, before starting.
Vencel said, “There is some existing grade that could come down, so that instead of building on top of the hill, across the street from Arbor Ridge, we could be talking about: OK, how can we start at a level that is more consistent with their starting level?”
The environmental impact of the development, given the existing challenges in managing stormwater, was the topic of Rachel Knoble’s commentary from the public mic. She lives on Weimer Road, which runs for some of its length along the city of Bloomington’s boundary. “What are you going to do for storm water drainage?” she asked. She continued, “Is it going to go into the creek? Are you going to make sure that creek is wide enough and maintained enough, so the water doesn’t back up toward me?”
The initial response from the city’s environmental commission (EC) to the Summit District PUD is somewhat critical, but reserves judgment until the site can be toured. The letter from the EC reads in part: “[T]his proposed PUD District Ordinance asks for numerous environmental exceptions that will have excessive impacts on environmental resources, which may not be necessary.” The letter continues, “The EC understands the current need for housing, but is opposed to prioritizing that need over environmental protection during this time of climate and ecological crisis.”
As a zoning change, the Summit District PUD would need to be approved by Bloomington’s city council.
If the plan commission votes to recommend approval of the PUD, that would start a 90-day clock.
After 90 days, if the legislative branch does not act on a positive recommendation for a rezone request from a plan commission—by approving it, or denying it—the rezone is automatically approved. It’s rare, but not unattested, for the 90 day window to expire with no action by the legislative body. That’s what happened in the case of a rezone for a 5-acre parcel just south of Bloomington, which was handled by Monroe County government in 2020.
If the plan commission’s vote were to come in September, or earlier, the 90-day clock would wind down before the end of this year.