Court rules for GOP chair, against Bloomington mayor on disputed plan commission seat

Andrew Guenther is the rightful appointee to Bloomington’s plan commission, according to a lower court ruling issued on Thursday morning.

The image links to the an OCRed version of the complete ruling from judge Erik Allen.

The ruling was made by Greene County special judge Erik Allen, who was appointed to hear the case after Monroe County circuit court judges recused themselves.

Judge Allen was elected as a Republican. The case is inherently partisan in character.

In the lawsuit, Monroe County Republican chair William Ellis sought to assert a right under state law provided to a party chair, to appoint Guenther to a spot on the Bloomington plan commission.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s position was that he retained the right to make the appointment, even after leaving the seat vacant for more than 90 days.

In any event, it was  undisputed that non-affiliation with the Democratic Party was essential—in order to conform with the partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral-appointed seats on the nine-member plan commission.

Hamilton’s eventual pick to fill the vacancy—which was created when he chose not to re-appoint Nick Kappas at the start of 2020—was real estate broker Chris Cockerham.

Cockerham has been serving in the seat contested by Guenther since May 2020.

One of the points of judge Allen’s ruling was that Cockerham’s appointment was not valid, because Cockerham was at the time of his appointment a Democrat as defined by state law. The most recent primary in which he had participated was a primary of the Democratic Party. Continue reading “Court rules for GOP chair, against Bloomington mayor on disputed plan commission seat”

Bloomington plan commission meets on Kmart redevelopment: “Yes, it’s better. But is it good?”

At its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s plan commission voted to continue the proposed redevelopment of the Kmart property on East Third Street to its second hearing. That is now set for June 14.

The outcome of Monday’s vote was not exactly hanging in the balance, because the 900-bedroom housing project does not include a rezone request.

That means its approval by the plan commission is “by right”—if it meets the standard conditions required in the MC (mixed-use corridor) zoning district. It also means that the project does not need approval from the city council. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission meets on Kmart redevelopment: “Yes, it’s better. But is it good?””

906-bedroom project for former Kmart site to get Bloomington plan commission review

Queued up for possible inclusion on the Bloomington plan commission’s May 10 agenda is a proposal to redevelop the former Kmart site on the south side of 3rd Street in the College Mall area.

The proposal from Trinitas, called The District at Latimer Square, would leave the Bloomingfoods grocery in place.

But the proposal would demolish the vacant Kmart building and excavate the parking lot, for construction of a 340-unit multi-family and student-oriented housing development, offering a total of 906 bedrooms.

The layout of the project would include five residential buildings, one leasing and amenity building, and a 385-space parking structure. The site will include another 100 surface parking spaces, and 57 parallel parking spaces, for a total of 542 parking spaces.

The student-oriented apartments would be constructed in the three buildings on the northern part of the site. The multi-family housing would be constructed in the two buildings on the southern part of the site.

The units will all be rental, none for sale as condos, and will be offered at the prevailing market rental rate in Bloomington. So the project will not include any “affordable units” defined in terms of HUD standards for area median income (AMI).

The timeframe for the project, according to the Trinitas submission to the city’s planning and transportation department, includes a hearing in May in front of the plan commission and a second hearing in June, and a construction start in November this year, with completion by 2023. Continue reading “906-bedroom project for former Kmart site to get Bloomington plan commission review”

Disputed plan commission seat: Court of appeals rules against Bloomington

On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel from Indiana’s Court of Appeals issued a unanimous ruling that goes against Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton and the city of Bloomington.

The ruling could be pivotal in the case of a disputed city plan commission seat that dates back to spring 2020. But Tuesday’s ruling leaves unresolved some crucial matters of statutory interpretation.

When the case goes back to the circuit court, it’s possible the special judge in the case, Erik Allen, could eventually issue an order that recognizes Andrew Guenther as the rightful appointee to the Bloomington plan commission, instead of Chris Cockerham.

Or Allen could decide that Cockerham is the right person for the spot.

That will depend on how Allen analyzes the questions of law in the case, which involve partisan balancing of boards and commissions

Tuesday’s order from the court of appeals panel simply affirmed Allen’s decision to deny the city of Bloomington’s motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss was based on the idea that Guenther, and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis, lacked legal standing to file their lawsuit.

In spring 2020, Ellis claimed a right under a state statute to make the plan commission appointment, and designated Guenther as his appointee. Under normal circumstances, it’s a mayoral appointment.

Ellis made his appointment under a state statute that gives a party chair the right to make the appointment if the mayor does not make it in a timely way—within 90 days after the expiry of the appointee’s term.

Hamilton’s appointment of Cockerham came after Ellis announced he had appointed Guenther. Cockerham has been serving as Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s appointee to the city’s plan commission since summer 2020. Continue reading “Disputed plan commission seat: Court of appeals rules against Bloomington”

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. Continue reading “Plan commission recommends putting residential urban districts on the map”

Duplexes to drop in front of Bloomington’s city council as permitted use

At its meeting on Thursday (April 1), Bloomington’s plan commission voted 6–3 to forward an ordinance to the city council, with a positive recommendation, that will affect the status of duplexes in much of the city.

The yellow areas are the places in Bloomington where the plan commission is recommending that duplexes be allowed as a permitted (by-right) use.

The recommended ordinance would revise the unified development ordinance (UDO), so that duplexes are a permitted (by-right) use in four districts.

The areas where duplexes would be permitted are the R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), R3 (Residential Small Lot), and R4 (Residential Urban) districts.

The city council could take up the question before the end of April, depending on how long it takes the plan commission to finish its work on the 10-ordinance package it’s now considering.

The city’s plan staff had proposed an ordinance that would change duplexes in R1, R2 and R3 from disallowed use to conditional use. A conditional use requires approval by the board of zoning appeals (BZA).

Through an amendment to the staff-proposed ordinance, approved on a 5–4 vote taken on Monday (March 29), the plan commission made duplexes a permitted (by-right) use in those three districts.

The amendment approved on Monday also changed duplexes in R4 from conditional use to permitted (by-right) use, which is consistent with the city’s current UDO. The planning staff’s unamended proposed ordinance had made the use of duplexes in R4 conditional.

In Monday’s action, the plan commission also voted to remove a 150-foot buffer that would have, for two years, prevented other duplexes from being constructed in the buffer area around a duplex that has received a certificate of zoning compliance. Continue reading “Duplexes to drop in front of Bloomington’s city council as permitted use”

Duplexes OK’d as by-right use for basic residential districts in recs by Bloomington plan commission

On a 5–4 vote taken Monday night, Bloomington’s plan commission changed its recommendation on duplexes in the R1, R2, R3, and R4 zoning districts—from conditional use to permitted (by-right) use.

It’s part of a proposed ordinance that will eventually wind up in front of the city council.

Also on Monday, plan commissioners voted 6–3 to remove from their recommended ordinance a proposed two-year buffering requirement for duplexes. Under the buffering requirement, if a duplex received a certificate of zoning compliance (CZC) in R1, R2, R3, or R4, then any other parcel within a 150-foot buffer of the duplex would be prevented for two years from getting a CZC for construction of a duplex.

After the ordinance was amended on Monday night, no vote was taken by the plan commission on the ordinance as amended. That vote could come at a meeting on Thursday (April 1), possibly after consideration of another amendment.

The votes on the two successful amendments followed the plan commission’s consideration of an amendment that was defeated on a 1–8 tally. The defeated amendment would have changed the commission’s recommendation on duplexes in the R1, R2, and R3 zoning districts, from conditional use to disallowed use.

The defeated amendment’s sole voice of support came from its sponsor, Susan Sandberg, who is the city council’s representative to the plan commission. Continue reading “Duplexes OK’d as by-right use for basic residential districts in recs by Bloomington plan commission”

Analysis: Duplexes allowed or not, a déjà different question for plan commission?

Should Bloomington’s plan commission recommend to the city council that duplexes still be disallowed in three specific zoning districts?

Zoning districts are (residential large lot), R2 (residential medium lot) and R3 (residential small lot). R4 is also a part of the mix, but is not a part of Sandberg’s amendment. A “C” stands for conditional use. A “P” stands for permitted (by-right) use. An empty cell means the use is not allowed. The asterisks indicate that use-specific conditions apply.

That’s the question that Bloomington’s plan commission has cued up on Monday, starting at 5:30 p.m.

The question was put forward by the city council’s representative to the plan commission, Susan Sandberg. It comes in the form of an amendment to an ordinance the plan commission is now hearing, that would modify the city’s existing unified development ordinance (UDO).

Public comment on the question was already heard, at Thursday’s special session of the plan commission.

So on Monday, the commission’s first decision on duplexes could be made in an hour or even less. But that will depend in part on whether plan commissioners have questions for planning staff, based on the public commentary they heard on Thursday.

Depending on how those first chips fall, the commission could also consider a different duplex question on Monday: Should the plan commission recommend to the city council that duplexes be permitted (i.e., allowed by right) in three specific zoning districts? Continue reading “Analysis: Duplexes allowed or not, a déjà different question for plan commission?”

No decision yet on duplex recommendation from Bloomington plan commission

The building shown is an existing duplex in Bloomington. Depending on the recommendation from the plan commission and subsequent action from the city council, from left to right, duplexes in R1, R2, R3 districts could be: not allowed, allowed as a conditional use, or allowed as a permitted (by-right) use.

Bloomington’s plan commission did not take any substantive votes at its Thursday special session, which was dedicated to just one of 10 ordinances currently under consideration to amend the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

But the commission did hear about three hours worth of public commentary from 54 different people, about a possible amendment to the ordinance that was on Thursday’s agenda.

The areas of the city affected by the ordinance are commonly called the “core neighborhoods.” In zoning terms, it’s the R1 (residential large lot), R2 (residential medium lot) and R3 (residential small lot) zoning districts.

Whether the plan commission will recommend to the city council that a duplex in the R1 through R4 districts is a permitted (by-right) use, a conditional use, or a completely disallowed use will have to wait until the next meeting of the plan commission.

The next meeting of the plan commission is set for Monday (March 29) at 5:30 p.m. Continue reading “No decision yet on duplex recommendation from Bloomington plan commission”

Plex debate preview: “I would just ask everybody to come armed with patience.”

Bloomington’s plan commission has set up Thursday’s 5:30 p.m special session as a meeting dedicated to just one of 10 ordinances currently under consideration to amend the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

The image links to the storymap created by Bloomington city planning staff with an overview of the proposed changes to the UDO.

The ordinance would revise the way the UDO handles duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes—the so-called “plexes.”

One sign that Thursday’s public hearing is expected to be contentious was some encouragement on Monday  from plan commission president Brad Wisler: “I would just ask everybody to come armed with patience.”

The plan commission normally allows five minutes to each public commenter. During discussion towards the end of Monday’s meeting, plan commissioners were inclined to allow the full five minutes at Thursday’s hearing. The other option batted around was to suspend the rules to reduce the time to three minutes.

In the current version of the UDO, no plexes are allowed at all in the R1 (residential large lot), R2 (residential medium lot) or R3 (residential small lot) zoning districts.  That’s the result of a November 2019 vote taken by Bloomington’s city council, to remove even the conditional use of duplexes in those residential zoning districts.

The ordinance to be considered by the plan commission on Thursday would allow duplexes as a conditional use in R1, R2, R3, as well as in the new R4 (residential urban) district.

R4 has not yet been placed anywhere on the zoning map. R4 would also allow triplexes and quadplexes, but also just as conditional uses. The mapping of R4 is a step that will be handled in a separate ordinance, currently scheduled to be heard on Monday, March 29.

Conditional uses are allowed uses, but have to be approved by the city’s board of zoning appeals (BZA). Continue reading “Plex debate preview: “I would just ask everybody to come armed with patience.””