More than 50 people made public comments each night at Wednesday’s and Thursday’s special session meetings of the City of Bloomington City Council to amend the Unified Development Ordinance.
The UDO regulates land use and development in Bloomington and has been contested for months. In this week’s meetings, the council discussed amendments to reduce the maximum number of bedrooms in duplexes and triplexes, to prohibit or limit “plexes” on properties in certain districts and to remove the conditional use limitation for Accessory Dwelling Units in all residential and mixed-use districts.
The biggest debates came during the discussions on “plexes.” Many believe duplexes and triplexes, especially in areas close to IU’s campus, will attract students. A few speakers said this is necessary.
“Bloomington is not a small town anymore,” said Joe Bergin, director of city relations for IU Student Government on Wednesday. “It’s time for our neighbors to welcome more neighbors, and yes, that includes students.”
Some were against an increase in “plexes,” as many claimed students would move in and push families out.
“If you limit to two bedrooms per unit, it makes it more likely to cut out families and put students in,” Bloomington resident Christine Linnemeier said Wednesday.
Many complained about students’ lifestyles and said they didn’t want to raise a family next to young people who party.
“Family life and student life is incompatible,” Linnemeier said Wednesday.
John Torok resides in the Elm Heights neighborhood, which he said has many “plexes.” He spoke Thursday and said he has come home at 4 p.m. to see his neighbors’ lawns littered with Solo cups, beer pong tables and empty kegs.
“The city can’t even handle sidewalks, so how are they going to handle students?” he said.
Erin Cooperman also lives in Elm Heights and said Thursday she would rather live by families who maybe would have kids to play with her own daughter.
Sarah Kopper owns a home in the Bryan Park neighborhood, and she said Thursday many students live on her street. Bloomington is a college town, and the core neighborhoods should have students there, she said.
Kopper said the city council needs to consider the people who weren’t at the meeting, as the room was full of white, elderly people who mainly owned their homes.
“We didn’t elect you to listen to the loudest voices,” she said.
Some people spoke out against “plexes” in core neighborhoods because they said it would deter home ownership.
“The city cannot enforce owner occupancy in ‘plexes,’ which quite probably points to ‘plexes’ as market-rate rentals,” said Richard Lewis, who lives in the Prospect Hill neighborhood. “And that, for me, kills the desirability of building that in the core.”
Amendment 1, which prohibits “plexes” on properties that will be zoned as residential small, medium and large lots on the effective date of the UDO, passed in a 6-2 vote. (Council member Allison Chopra was not present at Thursday’s meeting.) People cheered and clapped.
Linda Stewart spoke Thursday. She said the core neighborhood is not fighting for more “plexes,” but it’s especially not fond of developers trying to buy their land.
“We don’t mind ‘plexes,’ but what we do mind is opening up core neighborhoods to developers to come in and change the integrity of the core neighborhoods,” Stewart said.
Developers building “plexes” in these areas would redirect wealth in inappropriate ways, said Wendy Bricht on Thursday.
“To me, it’s a redirection of wealth out of Bloomington and into investors and private equity funds,” she said.
Many people at the meeting claimed reducing bedrooms in “plexes” and prohibiting them in certain areas would be a step in the wrong direction when trying to reduce carbon emissions.
“We know that we are in a housing crisis and a climate crisis, and we need to be leading with those things,” said IU student Eliza Dowd on Wednesday. “We need to be shifting towards denser housing; that will cut our emissions.”
Assistant Professor Nathan Geiger said Wednesday creating more housing around jobs would be beneficial for limiting car usage.
“We need to let people be close to their workplaces,” Geiger said. “We need to be considering incremental common-sense solutions.”
Pam Weaver, a representative from the Commission on Sustainability, said out of the 10 people on the commission, only two were in support of Amendment 3, which limits the maximum number of bedrooms in duplexes and triplexes.
Amendment 3 failed in a 4-5 vote.
The council voted 6-3 Wednesday to pass Amendment 5, which limits “plexes” on property in soon-to-be R1, R2 and R3 districts where demolition of at least 35% of the principal dwelling structure occurred within the previous three years and the construction of the “plex” structure would exceed the gross square footage of the original structure by more than 25%.
The council also discussed Amendment 7 on Thursday. The amendment removes the conditional use limitation for ADUs, secondary housing either attached or unattached to the main building, in all residential and mixed-use districts. The amendment passed in a 5-3 vote.
There are about 60 amendments to the current UDO for the council to discuss. These were four. The final vote is scheduled for Dec. 18. Five meetings for considering UDO amendments are on the schedule before that.