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Residents express environmental, infrastructure, traffic concerns about 139-acre development off Weimer Road

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Members of the Bloomington community voiced their concerns regarding a petition to build and rezone a 139-acre mixed residential development off Weimer Road at the Bloomington Plan Commission’s meeting Monday night. The commission voted to forward the petition to a second hearing in September.

Sudbury Development Partners, LLC purchased the land in February for $13.2 million and has proposed PUD-18-23. The developing company is requesting the Plan Commission rezone a 139-acre area off Weimer Road – which is currently undeveloped – and approve a new district ordinance and preliminary plan for the area. The development could house several thousand people on approximately 0.25 square miles, something Bloomington resident John Scott said could overwhelm the current infrastructure and school system.

“This will be the largest project ever done in Bloomington and will set the scale for any other projects that might come along,” Scott said during the meeting’s public comment.

According to the city of Bloomington, the Plan Commission is responsible for policy decisions and advising regarding land use, site plan reviews, preliminary and final plats and final Planned Unit Developments, or PUDs. A PUD is a development with mixed uses and residential types. The city of Bloomington states a PUD should use development layouts that preserve environmental conditions and address challenges associated with the specific building site. While traditional zoning ordinances may have stricter regulations, PUD zoning is more flexible and can mix different property types.

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The Plan Commission also advises city council on their adoption of and amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, the city’s long-term plan for land use and development.

Sudbury Development Partners, LLC’s proposed PUD would contain five distinct neighborhoods with up to 6,000 residential units, according to meeting documents. Their petition also includes land to build a fire station, a trailhead and connections to other roads. If approved, Sudbury Development Partners, LLC estimates the PUD could be built in eight to nine years, however representatives who spoke at the meeting indicated it could take longer to build the development.

According to meeting documents, Sudbury Development Partners, LLC originally proposed multiple reductions in environmental protection standards required by the Bloomington’s Unified Development Ordinance, the primary source of land use regulations used by the city. The reductions – which were discussed at the Plan Commission’s meeting July 10 – originally included changes related to developing around steep slopes, riparian buffers, tree and forest preservation.

Following discussion on Sudbury Development Partners, LLC’s original proposed reductions, the Bloomington Environmental Commission sent a memorandum to the Plan Commission stating they would stand against the PUD Ordinance until the petitioners prioritized environmental protection standards. The memorandum stated that the purpose of a PUD should not be to avoid environmental regulations.

“The EC continues to believe that any PUD District Ordinance should not water-down the environmental protection requirements to less than the minimum UDO standards,” the memorandum said. “The trend in Bloomington has generally been to strengthen its environmental standards over time, not decay them.”

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Since the Plan Commission’s original discussion on these reductions in July, the petitioners have revisited the site and met with members of the Environmental Commission. As of Monday, Sudbury Development Partners, LLC has proposed the site use UDO environmental regulations from April 20, 2023, rather than their original proposed reductions.

At Monday’s meeting Travis Vencel, Development Director at Sullivan Development, LLC, said adopting UDO regulations from April 20, 2023 will protect the riparian buffer and floodplain.

“We have no intention of lowering the environmental standards and in fact, a lot of the things we’re doing overall in the compact urban form and allowing this many units to be here is better for the environment than some other ways,” Vencel said at the meeting.

The petitioners also proposed the PUD use UDO standards from April 20, 2023 for access, connectivity and parking regulations. City of Bloomington Development Services Manager Jacqueline Scanlan said using older UDO standards will make the development more complicated, since Sudbury Development Partners will be using three different types of regulations: the April 2023 UDO, Bloomington UDOs in the future and standards they proposed in their PUD.

“We haven’t heard why that’s necessary in a convincing way yet,” Scanlan said.

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During public comment, Bloomington resident Vicky Pollitt said that while she is thankful the petitioners will respect the riparian buffer and floodplain, she is concerned that the tree canopies and their corresponding ecosystems will not be protected.

“The trees are amazing, the animals are amazing, the fungi are out of this world,” Pollitt said. “It is one of the most beautiful places in this area and it’s so accessible to everyone. I’d like to make sure it maintains its healthy life.”

Other community members, many of whom live in the nearby residential community Arbor Ridge, said they were concerned that the surrounding roads – such as Weimer Road, Adams Street and Sudbury Lane – may not support such a large influx of people. Some residents also said they were concerned that construction could cause increased flood risks.

In their petition, Sudbury Development Partners, LLC also proposed changes to parking, access and connectivity UDO requirements. The petitioners will conduct a traffic study of the area to determine how construction will impact surrounding roads and intersections. Meeting documents state this study will need to be conducted when Indiana University is back in session.

Members of the Plan Commission also discussed affordable housing incentives at Monday’s meeting. The city of Bloomington’s current UDO states that 15% of the dwelling units a PUD must be permanently affordable. Meeting documents state Sudbury Development Partners, LLC intends to receive additional height incentives for their development – which would allow them to build buildings higher than six stories – to meet this 15% minimum without having to add more affordable housing.

The Plan Commission will hear the petition again at their next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Council Chambers.

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