One big question that emerged during Monday’s meeting: How much compensation will Bloomington have to pay billboard owners, if the city causes them to remove their billboards by using zoning laws?
Based on Monday’s meeting deliberations, the question of compensation for billboard owners is one that the city’s legal department had apparently not contemplated up to now. Monday’s meeting marked the second required hearing in front of the plan commission, after a first hearing in September.
The commission will likely take up the question again at its Nov. 6 meeting. It’s the Bloomington city council that will have the final say on the question.
Bloomington zoning board of appeals (Sept. 27, 2023)
Bloomington zoning board of appeals (Sept. 27, 2023)
By late September next year (2024), an Academy Sports + Outdoor store could be open for business on the east side of Bloomington, north of 3rd Street off Kingston Drive.
The outdoor sporting goods store would operate out of the building that has sat vacant since 2017, when it was home to a Marsh supermarket.
That’s according to Bryan Chandler, president at Eclipse Real Estate, who represented Academy Sports at a special Tuesday night hearing, which was held by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA).
What cleared the way for the national big box sporting goods retailer, to put a store at the former Marsh store site, is a variance that was granted by the BZA at the end of Tuesday’s hearing.
Under the terms of the variance, Academy Sports can have 252 parking spaces on the site.
The city’s zoning code would ordinarily place a cap of 169 parking spaces for the 51,268-square-foot building.
The ordinary cap comes from a parking maximum expressed in the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO)—for the use called “retail sales, large”—as 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet.
There are already 267 parking spaces on the site, which were available to the Marsh store customers.
The variance says that Academy Sports can keep all but 15 of the 267 spaces, for a total of 252. But there are three conditions attached to the variance. Academy Sports has to install 15 landscape islands in the parking lot. And 26 of the parking spaces have to be provided for ride-share vehicles, not for customers or staff of Academy Sports. Finally, 57 of the parking spaces have to be surfaced with permeable pavers.
On Tuesday night, it took about 90 minutes of deliberations and sorting through the terms and conditions, for the BZA to approve a variance from the city’s maximum number of parking spaces. That came after the board had spent a couple of hours on the topic the week before, at its regular meeting last Thursday (Sept. 21).
The board members voted last week to continue the hearing to this week’s special meeting, at a point when they already seemed inclined to approve some kind of variance. But they wanted to nail down the details of the conditions—and they were running short on time at last week’s meeting.
The need for any variance at all, as well as the planning staff’s recommendation against granting it, was a big source of frustration for the ownership group for the building, which consisted of: Jeff Gould with Crane of Indiana; and David and Eric Kamen, with Bryan Rental.
Even though their previous building tenant, Marsh Supermarkets, had used the building for a similar purpose, because the building had sat vacant for more than 12 months, any use of the building was considered a new use. The new use made it subject to compliance with the UDO’s newer parking requirements. Those requirements include a maximum of 3.3 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building space.
Over the two nights of the hearing, a point that was drawn out was the fact that if the building owners had been trying to lease the building to Academy Sports within 12 months of it becoming vacant, the new parking maximums would not have applied.
Gould and the Kamens were also crunched for time, a constraint they were put under by their current lessee, which is the Kroger Company. The owners had until Oct. 2 to get a deal done, to lease the property to Academy Sports, instead of Kroger.
Kroger had bought the long-term lease at the Marsh bankruptcy auction, Gould told the BZA on Tuesday night. But Kroger did not buy the lease with an eye towards opening a grocery store there. Instead, Gould said, Kroger just wanted to have control of the property as a “defensive mechanism,” to keep competitors out.
Last week, when the BZA was mulling a continuation of the hearing to its scheduled Oct. 19 meeting, the owners protested that it would be too late, given the Oct. 2 deadline that Kroger had set. They characterized the chance to sign a lease with Academy Sports as a unique opportunity.
Bloomington senior planner Eric Greulich countered that the occasion of a new use, which triggers compliance with stricter parking regulations, is also a unique opportunity—for the city and its residents to get the benefits of reduced parking on the site.
At the BZA hearing last week, Greulich talked about the harm that excess asphalt can cause—like excess stormwater runoff and urban heat island impacts. Lots of asphalt doesn’t promote pedestrian accessibility to a building, he said. “Just the presence of asphalt and cars sitting there, goes against many of the goals within our comprehensive plan,” Greulich said.
In the end, BZA members were helped towards a decision to grant the variance by uniformly positive commentary from surrounding businesses and residential neighbors.
They also saw it as a chance to stand up to Kroger. BZA member Tim Ballard put it like this: “Kroger is a monopolistic company, coming in here and really trying to strongarm local business owners and local property owners.”
Ballard continued, “I believe we should fully support and try to support any petitioner, whether big or small, who comes to us this way.”
The vote to grant the variance was unanimous among the four BZA members present on Tuesday—Jo Throckmorton, Tim Ballard, Nikki Farrell, and Barre Klapper. Flavia Burrell was absent.
The amendment would effectively make all billboards in Bloomington disappear by 2031. That includes the one off Kinser Pike next to the SR 45/46 bypass, which is currently subject to litigation.
Last year, after the billboard’s owner, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, converted the billboard face to a digital display, Bloomington cited the company for violation of the UDO’s regulations on electronic reader boards.
From left: city council administrator attorney Stephen Lucas and planning director Scott Robinson.
From left: Development services manager Jackie Scanlan and city council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas.
The maximum number of parking spaces allowed for restaurant parking in Bloomington will remain, for at least a while, at 10 per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.
That’s one main result from the Bloomington plan commission’s Tuesday morning special meeting.
The other outcome from the meeting was that stadiums, if any new private facilities get built, will have a limit of 1 parking space for every 8 seats. That’s instead of the 1 space for every 4 seats that had originally been recommended by the plan commission three months ago.
Those outcomes reflected the amendments that Bloomington’s city council made to the plan commission’s recommended ordinance, when the council took action at its June 21 meeting.
The plan commission’s original recommendation, which it made on April 10, had been to increase the restaurant parking from 10 spaces to 15 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the plan commission voted 5–0 to approve the ordinance, as amended by the city council. Four plan commissioners were absent.
In more than a year since Bloomington mayor John Hamilton signed revisions to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) into law, just one application to construct a duplex as a conditional use has been heard by the city’s board of zoning appeals (BZA).
At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a raft of changes to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) that were in many cases purely technical in nature.
But some of the changes were meant to support specific policy goals— like preventing massive buildings that have been called as “monolithic” in character, and encouraging developers to use the affordability incentives that are already included in the UDO.
Developers will now get a smaller building floor plate “by right.” They’ll get a bit of a bump in square footage if they use either the sustainable development incentive alone or the affordable housing incentive alone. But they’ll get a significant increase in floor plate area, if they use both incentive types.
The changes to the UDO approved by the city council were spread across four different ordinances. The legislation had been initiated by planning staff and recommended for approval by the city’s plan commission.
Since Bloomington’s most recently updated unified development ordinance (UDO) was signed into law by mayor John Hamilton on July 12 last year, no conditional use applications have been filed to build duplexes in older residential neighborhoods.
That was the report to the Bloomington city council’s Wednesday meeting by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. The only way new duplexes can be constructed in older neighborhoods is through a conditional use application.
Also on Wednesday, planning and transportation director Scott Robinson alerted the council to some upcoming proposed changes in the UDO—revisions to the incentives that are available to developers. Developers of student housing are using the sustainability incentive, but not the affordability incentive, Robinson reported. The goal of the proposed changes will be to encourage the use of both incentive types, Robinson said.
Those proposed changes to the UDO’s incentives will eventually be reviewed by Bloomington’s plan commission, before the city council makes a decision. The city plan commission’s next meeting is set for Feb. 7. That will be the commission’s first meeting of the year. The group will have two new faces compared to last year.
The city council representative to the plan commission will be Ron Smith, not Susan Sandberg, who has served the last few years in that role. The other new face isTim Ballard, who has been appointed to the Bloomington plan commission as the replacement for Beth Cate, who resigned when she took the role of the city’s corporation counsel in early January.
It’s the same year when Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” was published, with its proverbial line from the storyteller’s adjacent landowner: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
In mid-May the US Postal Service started building an eight-foot-tall fence around its branch just south of the park.
With its fence construction, by the standards of the narrator’s neighbor in the “Mending Wall,” the USPS has made itself a “good neighbor” to the public park.
Some local reaction has been more along the lines of the storyteller in the poem: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.”
It looks like the fence probably doesn’t conform with local zoning code. But the principle of “sovereign immunity” means the USPS, even as a lessee of the property, can build the fence the way it wants, according to Bloomington’s legal department.
A decision on a proposed new local law that would require landlords and tenants to sign occupancy affidavits, and file them with the housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council until June 16.
The unanimous vote to postpone final action came after public commentary from one smaller-scale landlord and a representative of the local apartment association. They called into question the need for the new local law.
As councilmembers were mulling a longer postponement, until July 21, HAND director John Zody told them, “I would encourage the council to fix a date where we would hear this again, if possible, so that we can work off of a timeline.”
Zody told councilmembers the new ordinance is a priority for the administration.
It became a priority, Zody wrote in response to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, when the state legislature enacted legislation that prohibits the city from requiring the issuance of a tenant’s rights and responsibilities document. Bloomington’s rights and responsibilities document included a section similar to the occupancy affidavit. [SEA 148]
According to a “whereas” clause in the ordinance, Bloomington has “a demonstrated problem enforcing over-occupancy in residential rental units.” It’s a claim that drew skepticism during public commentary.