The Bloomingtonian

Proposal would rezone some of Bloomington’s older neighborhoods for “plexes”

A proposed zoning map released by the City of Bloomington Thursday will rewrite how landowners can use their property on the near westside with a new zoning category the city is calling “residential urban.” The proposed change to residential neighborhoods will add, “plexes” as housing options in all districts that allow residential uses,” according to the City of Bloomington’s press release.

https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/09d40d7217984a24b334a014e70866e5

https://bloomington.in.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/Zoning%20Map%20-%20Public%20Outreach%20Draft%20-%20Online.pdf

Real estate lobbyists and some members of the Bloomington City Council tried to accomplish the same rezoning in 2019 but did not succeed after the council voted against the proposed changes. However, some proponents of the zoning change are now city council members. Proponents of the changes cited zoning practices that led to a lack of affordable housing in the city.

It’s unknown from the proposal what it would cost to buy or rent a “plex” since real estate prices are set by the cost of construction, how much profit real estate businesses would need to make to get a return on investment, and what potential customers will pay for housing. With the current lack of housing even at higher prices than in the past, it’s likely any new inventory would be quickly absorbed by the market, and there would be a high demand to convert single-family structures to “plexes.”

An interactive map released Thursday is filled with lots of zoning language, but essentially, parts of Bloomington that are zoned for single-family dwellings will be rezoned for multi-unit properties under the “R4 residential urban” label.

If approved for a permit, landowners would be able to tear down historic housing in the Near Westside neighborhood, which is now historic, but all the housing in the Waterman neighborhood between W. 8th Street and the train tracks will be subject to the proposed new zoning, and the neighborhood is not zoned historic (some houses in the neighborhood were built in the early 1900s). It’s likely the neighborhood would change dramatically as real estate developers swoop into the neighborhood, buy properties, tear them down, and build “plexes.” Waterman is one of the last remaining working-class neighborhoods in the city and has been resistant to gentrification.

Many neighborhoods in the city have covenants that govern land use and would prevent “plexes” from being constructed.

In the San Francisco Bay area, now one of the most expensive areas of the United States, property owners often found loopholes to tear down a structure one section at a time, and rebuild it to the owner’s wishes to get around strict zoning rules. In cities like Austin, Texas, whole sections of the city were demolished one structure at a time, and new structures built, which forced working-class families to house outside the city. The proposed City of Bloomington plan does not address these known ways to get around zoning, or how rezoning might change the city’s character. However, many of the older structures that once gave the city its unique character have been torn down for more and more student housing downtown, and one might defer to that precedent for the answer.

Peter Dorfman President of the Near West Side Neighborhood Association said the following in an e-mail sent to members of the association, and The Bloomingtonian:

“The city’s proposed rezoning map is out, and it shows the entire Near West Side R3 zone, most of Prospect Hill, chunks of Bryan Park and lots of other core neighborhood R3 zones as R4. That means plexes — up to 4-plexes.

This a draft map for public input. But what it shows is that the Hamilton Administration intends to do what it couldn’t do democratically, through ordinance via the UDO, by undemocratic means, through mapping.

I believe it’s time — NOW, not later on as the plan jells — to get very loud and very public about opposing this densification through mapping.”

According to a press release sent to The Bloomingtonian Thursday, “The first public engagement session will take place via video conference from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27.  (A link to join the meeting will be posted at the project website.)  The meeting will feature a presentation of the proposed changes with the largest impact with a short facilitated question-and-answer session after the presentation.  There will be at least four meetings over the course of the next month to gather public input.  Residents may also provide feedback through online surveys on the project website.”

“Our land-use choices are crucial in advancing our community toward more sustainability, equity, economic viability, and an ever-improving quality of life for people from all walks of life,” said Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton.  “These choices are complex and interconnected. I encourage residents to participate in the ongoing process of developing a new zoning map that best embodies our community’s fundamental values.”

The city press release continues:

“The public outreach draft map and text amendments include the following significant proposed changes:  

  • Identifying locations for three new Zoning Districts described in the 2020 UDO:
    • PO:  Parks and Open Space
    • R4:  Residential Urban
    • MS:  Mixed-Use Student Housing   
  • Identifying 20 individual areas for targeted rezoning
  • Rezoning the following ‘Focus Areas,’ that is, locations that are expected to see the most immediate or anticipated development/redevelopment interest over the next decade:
    • West Fork Clear Creek: areas including Sudbury Farms and Mill Creek PUDs
    • Switchyard North and Gateway South: areas surrounding Switchyard Park and south of downtown
    • West Second Street Hospital Redevelopment Site 
    • Gateway North: areas north of downtown
  • Identifying over 100 PUDs for rezoning

Adding “plexes” as a housing options in all districts that allow residential uses”

Kate Rosenbarger who is now the city council member for District 1, which includes Waterman and the Near Westside. Rosenbarger ran on a message of bringing housing affordability to the city beating incumbent Chris Sturbaum.

Sturbaum was a long time advocate of historical preservation in the city’s core neighborhoods and served nearly 20 years on the council. In the 1970s and 80s many of Bloomington’s historic structures were torn down, which led to efforts for historical preservation. The city celebrated it’s Bicentennial in 2018.

https://bloomington.in.gov/bicentennial

While the city’s population has grown, and efforts have been made to bring high-tech jobs to the city, Bloomington also has a lack of affordable housing, and housing prices have risen dramatically. Many working-class residents no longer live in the city, and many commute to jobs from outside Bloomington, or even from outside Monroe County. Bloomington’s police, for example, are some of the lowest paid in the state. Indiana University, one of the area’s biggest employers, is one of the lowest paying Big Ten schools, and some workers rely on public assistance, such as food pantries, to make ends meet. Many IU workers are already making less than 15-dollars per hour.

Some IU workers will also soon be furloughed due to financial losses at the University due to the pandemic.

A minimum wage worker cannot afford housing in Monroe County, as is the case in most counties across the United States. The federal minimum wage is 7 dollars, and 25 cents, and Indiana’s minimum wage is set at the federal minimum. That comes to 290-dollars per week, or 1160 per month, before any taxes.

According to RentCafe.com the average rent price in Bloomington is 1126-dollars per month.

https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/in/bloomington/

At the same time, the construction of apartments aimed at the college aged population have boomed downtown, and completely reshaped the urban landscape. Most of the apartments are unaffordable to area residents.

The median income in Monroe County is 48,883-dollars, but the way medians are calculated, the highest earners are included with minimum wage earners, while the number would also exclude workers who may work in the city, but live outside the county due to housing prices. Statistics showed that building permits for 226 single family homes were issued in 2019, but zero were issued for 3-4 family units, which are being called, “plexes.” However, there were 492 permits issued for units designed for over five families, which would include apartments.

https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/in/bloomington/

The Median home cost in the city is 198,700-dollars:  

https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/indiana/bloomington


Here is the press release from the City of Bloomington:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 22, 2020

For more information, please contact:

Jackie Scanlan, Development Services Manager of Planning and Transportation, [email protected].

New Draft Bloomington Zoning Map Released for Resident Input   

Bloomington, Ind. – A draft of the proposed new Bloomington Zoning Map has been published to the City’s website as a step in the last phase of the process of updating the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and Zoning Map, which began nearly three years ago in February of 2018.  Approved in April 2020, the UDO brings the City’s land use and development laws into closer alignment with the City’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan to support such goals as housing equity, compact urban form, and sustainability.  

The website contains the public outreach draft map and amendments to UDO standards, a proposed zoning changes story map, proposed housing diversity story map, an interactive map where residents may enter their address, and information about opportunities to provide feedback over the next eight weeks. The input collected during this period will help staff prepare for public hearings in early 2021 to consider and adopt the new zoning map for the city, along with text amendments.  

The first public engagement session will take place via video conference from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27.  (A link to join the meeting will be posted at the project website.)  The meeting will feature a presentation of the proposed changes with the largest impact with a short facilitated question-and-answer session after the presentation.  There will be at least four meetings over the course of the next month to gather public input.  Residents may also provide feedback through online surveys on the project website.   

“Our land-use choices are crucial in advancing our community toward more sustainability, equity, economic viability, and an ever-improving quality of life for people from all walks of life,” said Mayor John Hamilton.  “These choices are complex and interconnected. I encourage residents to participate in the ongoing process of developing a new zoning map that best embodies our community’s fundamental values.”

The public outreach draft map was developed by analyzing existing conditions (e.g. lot standards) and putting principles contained in the Comprehensive Plan into action, by fostering economic growth, increasing housing options, locating student housing in appropriate locations, and encouraging land use that increases alternative transportation options.  The draft map also seeks to modernize outdated Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), in order to simplify and efficiently steer development in those areas.

When adopted in April 2020, the UDO included a Conversion Map with new zoning district names, standards, and uses for existing districts without altering the location of those districts and without adding any new districts.  In that way, the community was able to discuss the broader themes and technicalities of the UDO without simultaneously tackling the discussion of where the districts should be located.  The Zoning Map update will complete the process of identifying these locations. 

The public outreach draft map and text amendments include the following significant proposed changes:  

  • Identifying locations for three new Zoning Districts described in the 2020 UDO:
    • PO:  Parks and Open Space
    • R4:  Residential Urban
    • MS:  Mixed-Use Student Housing   
  • Identifying 20 individual areas for targeted rezoning
  • Rezoning the following ‘Focus Areas,’ that is, locations that are expected to see the most immediate or anticipated development/redevelopment interest over the next decade:
    • West Fork Clear Creek: areas including Sudbury Farms and Mill Creek PUDs
    • Switchyard North and Gateway South: areas surrounding Switchyard Park and south of downtown
    • West Second Street Hospital Redevelopment Site 
    • Gateway North: areas north of downtown
  • Identifying over 100 PUDs for rezoning
  • Adding “plexes” as a housing options in all districts that allow residential uses

Ongoing updates to the project website will include responses to input received, informational presentations, draft text amendment revisions, and the next steps for the adoption process of the new Zoning Map and text amendments.  Residents are encouraged to visit the website often for the most updated information.  After the eight-week public input period, staff will consolidate the comments and make appropriate changes to the draft map and text amendments in order to present the map and public input to the Plan Commission in early 2021.  After Plan Commission review and approval, the changes will be presented for City Council action.   

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