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Thursday, May 23
The Indiana Daily Student

city bloomington

Plan Commission forwards Summit District petition with positive recommendation

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The Bloomington Plan Commission forwarded a petition to rezone one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in city limits to the city council with a positive recommendation during a special hearing Tuesday.  

The rezone would support the Summit District, a proposed project which has faced pushback from nearby residents who worry the area’s infrastructure cannot support the development. The commission decided to support the rezone after more than 4.5 hours of presentations, public comment and debate.  

In February 2023, the petitioners, Sudbury Development Partners LLC, purchased 139 acres of land off Weimer Road for $13.2 million with plans to build a mixed residential and commercial development called the Summit District. With 4,250 proposed residential units, if approved, the development would be one of the largest projects ever constructed in city limits.  

The petitioners are asking the city council to consider the Summit District as a Planned Unit Development. While traditional zoning ordinances often have stricter regulations, PUD zoning is more flexible and can mix different property types. Under this PUD zoning, the petitioners can propose changes to standards required by Bloomington’s Unified Development Ordinance, the city’s primary source of land use regulation. For instance, the petitioners proposed mixing zoning ordinances to build short term off-site and surface parking lots, which is not permitted under the standard zoning ordinances.  

The Plan Commission held three hearings on the petition before Tuesday’s meeting. During these hearings, the petitioners argued the Summit District would provide much needed housing in the area. According to a 2024 Regional Opportunity Initiatives Housing study released, Monroe County will need an additional 4,447 residential units by 2030 to accommodate its population growth.  

At least 15% of the total dwelling units in the Summit District must be permanently income-restricted or affordable housing, according to a city planning and transportation staff report sent to the commission. Jacqueline Scanlan, the city’s case manager for this petition, said the petitioners have proposed having up to 20% of their dwellings classified as affordable housing in some areas of the development. According to the staff report, building more affordable housing units could allow the developers to construct buildings taller than what is permitted under the city’s UDO.  

Representatives from Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, United Way of South Central Indiana, Heading Home of South Central Indiana and the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce urged the commission to give the Summit District a positive recommendation. Additionally, several residents said during public comment supporting this development was necessary to give renters more housing availability.  

In their report to the commission, the city Planning and Transportation department recommended the commission forward the petition to the city council with a positive recommendation but on 10 conditions. Some of these conditions include specifying floor plate, height and fencing standards in the PUD, incorporating new storm water detention requirements and promising to work with various city departments. 

However, several residents who live on Weimer Road and the nearby neighborhood Arbor Ridge worry the area’s sewer and road infrastructure cannot support the large-scale development. With 4,250 proposed units many of which may end up being single or multi-family homes the development could house at least 8,500 people. Arbor Ridge resident John Scott, who holds a certificate in urban planning and development and served on the Dennis, Massachusetts, zoning and appeals board, told the Indiana Daily Student in February he estimates the project could end up housing up to 10,000 people.  

“I will fight that until the day you put me in the ground,” Scott said during public comment.  

The primary way to access the development will be driving on Weimer Road, which is around 1.3 miles long and connects Second Street and Tapp Road. The petitioners also plan to extend nearby roads Adams Street and Sudbury Lane to support the Summit District. During public comment, residents said Weimer Road frequently floods, experiences backups and has visibility problems.  

Additionally, the Bloomington Environmental Commission expressed their concerns with the PUD in a memorandum to the plan commission, stating that PUD zoning should not be used to avoid environmental standards. In July 2023, Sudbury Development Partners LLC proposed multiple reductions in environmental protection standards required by the UDO. Since then, the petitioners said they will not deviate from the city’s UDO standards.  

“The EC understands the current demand for housing but is opposed to prioritizing that need over the need for environmental protection during this time of climate and ecological crisis,” the environmental commission said in the memorandum. “Climate change and biodiversity loss has long-term impacts on all residents and must be prioritized.”  

The environmental commission proposed the petitioners change parts of their plan, including redrawing floodplain boundaries, providing more protection for the riparian buffers and creating more electric vehicle charging stations. They did not, however, explicitly state how they thought the plan commission or city council should vote on the rezone request.  

Travis Vencel, a representative for the petitioners, said the petitioners agree with most of the environmental commission’s concerns and proposed changes. However, he said the city should not codify the proposed PUD with these new suggestions yet. If the city updates its UDO to create more stringent protections in the future, Vencel said the developers would not have to abide by these new updates because they already codified their environmental standards in the PUD. If they do not codify these suggestions, the developers would need to follow any updated UDO protections, even if these updates happen after the rezone petition is approved.  

“We’re probably better off to say we want to do more, and it's here as a recommendation and as the city progresses and changes our ordinance, we’ll have to meet that ordinance,” Vencel said.  

Scanlan emphasized that because the petitioners agreed to not deviate from UDO, the standards used for the Summit District development will be the same used for all other developments in Bloomington.  

“They just are our regular environmental protection regulations that we hold everyone to,” Scanlan said. “If we don’t think those are good enough that’s another conversation, and we should talk about a UDO amendment.”  

Scanlan said the planning and transportation department tries to balance the importance of environmental protection with the need for development. She said she believes the petitioners have struck an appropriate balance with their proposal. 

The Plan Commission members voted 7-0-1, with commissioner Chris Smith abstaining, to forward the petition with a positive recommendation to the city council. Scanlan said the city planning and transportation staff must certify the commission’s recommendation by March 28. After the administration certifies their decision, the city must hear the plans within 90 days. She said the council will likely hear the petition before their meeting June 12. 

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