Thursday night was the second session of the Bloomington city council’s ongoing consideration of amendments to the city’s update of the unified development ordinance.
The council voted on two amendments, approving both. One was co-sponsored by councilmembers Dave Rollo and Chris Sturbaum. It eliminated duplexes and triplexes as possible uses of land in core neighborhoods. The tally was 6–2 on the nine-member council. Allison Chopra was absent.
The other amendment approved by the council on Thursday changed the status of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from a conditional use, which requires a public review process, to a by-right use. A by-right use eliminates the public review process, but does not eliminate use-specific standards.
For ADUs, the use-specific standards include: a limit of one ADU per lot; a requirement that only lots greater than the minimum size for the zoning district are allowed to have an ADU; a maximum of two bedrooms; and a limit of one family. The vote that made ADUs by-right was 5–3.
Two meeting moments stood out as somewhat suspense-filled, before a councilmember revealed their final position.
It was only the second such moment, related to ADUs, that was crucial to the outcome of a vote.
The council had voted to extend deliberations for another 30 minutes past the 10 p.m. scheduled time for adjournment. The hour approached 10:30 p.m. After council questions, public comment, and council commentary on the status of ADUs, councilmember Andy Ruff said he was unsure where he stood.
Ruff acknowledged that a public hearing process did represent some kind of burden to someone who wanted to construct an ADU. But he wondered if it is a burden that rises to a level where it would have an impact on the number of ADU proposals.
When the roll was called, Ruff was sixth to vote. Ahead of Ruff, councilmembers Jim Sims, Steve Volan, Dorothy Granger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith voted yes, and Dave Rollo voted no. Councilmembers Chris Sturbaum and Susan Sandberg, who were slated to vote after Ruff, had already indicated they’d be voting no.
With the tally at 4–1, and two virtually certain votes against it to follow, Ruff paused a good 7 seconds after his name was called, before voting in favor of making ADUs a by-right use. It passed on a 5–3 tally.
Much of the debate on the status of ADUs focused on the question of whether a required opportunity to engage with neighbors on a proposed ADU is a good thing or a bad thing.
On the plus side was the idea that neighbors might provide useful suggestions for improving the proposed ADU. Also on the positive side was the idea that increased publicity would increase awareness of the owner-occupied requirement of ADUs so the compliance would increase.
Weighing against a required public meeting was the idea that a prospective ADU builder might feel pressured by the conditional use process to reveal private details about the reasons for constructing the unit—for example, related to the mental health of a family member.
During the ADU deliberations, Piedmont-Smith argued against the idea that engagement with neighbors is necessarily a positive thing:
Somebody said anytime we can engage our neighbors in conversation, it’s good. That’s not been my experience. I’ve engaged a lot of neighbors as their elected representative and I have been vilified, I’ve been called stupid, I’ve been compared to Donald Trump, I’ve been called a liar. So I don’t blame anybody who doesn’t want to face a public meeting.
It was Piedmont-Smith who had provided the other suspense-filled moment at Thursday’s meeting. Earlier in the day, she’d informed the Bryan Park Neighborhood Association that she would be voting yes on the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment to prohibit plexes in core neighborhoods. That reflected a change in her expected vote, even if her own judgment was still that plexes should be allowed on conditional use.
The reason Piedmont-Smith gave for her planned support of the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment was that “a vast majority of the constituents who have given me their opinion on the topic oppose the plexes.”
The night before, Piedmont-Smith had won approval for one of her two “compromise” amendments on plexes that she put forward in an attempt to make plexes more palatable.
On Thursday night, when it came time for final council comment on the prohibition of plexes, some of those in the audience, who were aware of Piedmont’s communication earlier in the day, were holding out hope that she might change her mind. She did not.
Piedmont-Smith’s revelation at the meeting, that she would support the amendment prohibiting plexes, sent murmurs through the packed council chambers.
Councilmember Dorothy Granger, who had been considered a possible no vote on the amendment, voted yes. So the Rollo-Sturbaum amendment would have passed, even without Piedmont-Smith’s support.
Even though she supported the amendment, because she felt that represented her constituents, Piedmont-Smith repeated on Thursday night her criticism of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), which she’d made at an earlier meeting.
The mailer that CONA had sent out, contained “outright falsehoods”, she said, and ticked through them. Piedmont-Smith also said the mailer likely violated the IRS code on lobbying by 501(c)(3) organizations. The IRS code puts a limit on the proportion of a 501(c)(3) organization’s activity that can go towards lobbying.
The Bloomington city council continues with consideration of UDO amendments next week on Tuesday (Nov. 19) and Wednesday (Nov. 20)
|Am 01: prohibit duplexes, triplexes in core||yes||yes||absent||yes||yes||no||yes||yes||no|
|Am 06: allow
ADUs by right