Indiana Daily Student

Bloomington City Council passes amendment creating duplex cap, space buffer

<p>City Flats on Walnut apartments appear April 21 on Walnut Street. The Bloomington City Council passed an amendment with certain restrictions for developing duplexes in single-housing neighborhoods.</p>

City Flats on Walnut apartments appear April 21 on Walnut Street. The Bloomington City Council passed an amendment with certain restrictions for developing duplexes in single-housing neighborhoods.

The Bloomington City Council passed an amendment 7-2 Thursday night which would provide two restrictions on duplex development in single-family housing neighborhoods.

The amendment will implement a maximum cap of 15 newly constructed duplexes per year as well as a 150 foot buffer around a duplex. 

Development Services Manager Jacqueline Scanlan said the buffer distance was decided upon because it could possibly decrease disturbances between neighbors and ease residents’ fears regarding new housing forms in their neighborhoods. 

Previously-existing duplexes and multiplexes will not need to comply with the new restrictions unless the property owners decide to build onto the structure, Scanlan said.

Thursday’s meeting was the city council’s third of the week discussing amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance, which is the governing document for land use and development. Community debate has largely surrounded the allowance of plexes in single-family home neighborhoods.

The city council voted against a proposed amendment 4-5 Tuesday which would have rejected the Bloomington Plan Commission’s zoning recommendation to allow duplexes in areas of the city previously zoned for single-family homes. 

The city council decided to amend the commission’s recommendation Wednesday after a 9-0 vote to allow duplexes on a conditional basis, meaning new duplex developments need to undergo a Board of Zoning Appeals review before being constructed. 

Councilmember and amendment co-sponsor Dave Rollo said Thursday’s amendment provides protections for existing homeowners in affected neighborhoods. It prevents a flood of new plex development into these areas and limits possible adverse effects, he said. 

“It provides a safeguard against possible, what I consider probable, harm,” Rollo said. “It is a moderating approach that would give us controls on this experiment.”

Councilmember Steve Volan said two already-existing zoning districts allow plexes but no property owners have filed to build a quadplex, despite being located near desirable student housing areas.

“People are for this simply because they really believe that developers are coming,” he said. “Their fear is utterly irrational.”

Councilmember Sue Sgambelluri said allowing plexes in neighborhoods is a significant change for the city, and they can’t predict how the change will affect impacted neighborhoods. If there haven't been many petitions to build plexes already, she said the cap shouldn’t be an issue and is only a precaution.

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said the amendment may put arbitrary and unnecessary limits on building duplexes. She said Bloomington needs more housing density in order to address its affordable housing needs, and adding duplexes is a step to achieve that goal.

“I believe that adding more density increases sustainability and Amendment 3 would put arbitrary roadblocks to the mildest form of higher density, the duplex,” she said.

Residents are worried allowing plexes into traditionally single family home neighborhoods would create more occupant density, including more student renters, and deteriorate previous homeowners’ quality of life.

Many members of the community voiced their concerns for about two hours during the meeting, which was mostly focused on how changing zoning code, introducing plexes into neighborhoods and building plexes without certain restrictions will affect the city and its neighborhoods.

The city council will next meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to continue UDO discussions and possibly at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for an additional special session.

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