Last Wednesday, the Bloomington city council’s four-member land use committee met to review a planned unit development (PUD) proposed for the empty lot on the north side of the Longview Avenue, between Pete Ellis Drive and 7th Street.
The zoning proposal from Curry Urban Properties would allow for construction of a single four-story building with 344 bedrooms and 19,000 square feet of commercial space, enclosing two interior courtyards on the east and west sides of a structured parking garage with a total of 306 parking spaces.
Of the 264 dwelling units, 15 percent of them would have rents keyed to either the same as the area median income (AMI) or no more than 120 percent of AMI.
After hearing from planning staff, the petitioner Tyler Curry, and neighbors, the land use committee decided to hold a second meeting on the proposal, scheduled for Jan. 29 at 5:45 p.m.
In early November, on a 6–0 vote, the city’s plan commission recommended the change in zoning needed by Curry’s PUD.
It’s now in front of the city council, because a zoning change means a change in local law—so the city council has a chance approve it or reject it. It was at its regular meeting on Jan. 8 that the council referred the matter to its land use committee. [.pdf of Curry Urban Properties primary materials]
The land use committee consists of Kate Rosenbarger, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, and Matt Flaherty. Sitting in the audience on Wednesday was councilmember Ron Smith, who represents District 3, where the proposed PUD is located.
The full council has 90 days to act, starting from Nov. 14, 2019, when the plan commission’s recommendation was certified to the city council. That gives the city council until mid-February to act. No action by the council by the 90-day deadline would mean the PUD is automatically enacted.
The rezoning reflected in any PUD is in some sense “custom zoning” specific to a site. That is, PUD zoning is inherently a departure from the specifications of any other zoning district in the city code.
In the case of the Curry Urban Properties proposal, the zoning that’s in place is commercial limited (CL), which includes residential uses as one of its allowable uses. But residential use in a CL district is supposed to be limited to floors above the street level. So one of the points of departure from CL zoning for the PUD is to allow first-floor residential uses.
Another constraint on residential uses in CL districts is a maximum density of 15 dwelling units per acre. The 344 bedrooms distributed across 264 units work out to 29 units per acre, almost twice the allowable density. The PUD proposal is to define the zoning as allowing a maximum of 30 units per acre.
Another point of departure from CL zoning for Curry’s PUD is the building height limit of 40 feet. The PUD would allow a building up to 57 feet tall.
Generally, a PUD is subject to minimum size of 5 acres. Curry’s PUD asks that the minimum 5-acre requirement be waived for the 3.2-acre site.
First on the enumerated list of considerations the city council is supposed to weigh when deciding to approve or reject a PUD proposal is whether the proposed PUD meets the requirement of the zoning code for PUD districts. And a key requirement for a PUD district is that it “provide a public benefit that would not occur without deviation from the standards of the unified development ordinance.”
Among the project’s attributes that are pitched as meeting the public benefit requirement is a 99-year commitment to affordable housing. Specifically the proposal is to make 10 percent of the bedrooms available to tenants earning 100 percent of AMI ($51,700) and 5 percent of the bedrooms for tenants with income no more than 120% of AMI. Apartments keyed to this level of AMI are commonly called “workforce” housing.
The plan commission and staff’s report cite the inclusion of workforce housing, proximity to the new hospital, and the effort to mitigate the bulk and height of the building by modulating the facades as reasons to support the rezoning.
On Wednesday, initial reaction on the four-member committee appeared generally positive, but was not without some concerns.
The idea of including affordable housing on site, instead of making a contribution to the city’s housing development fund, was seen as a clear benefit. (The version of the UDO approved by the city council late last year, eliminates payment-in-lieu as an option. The updated UDO is not yet effective.)
One feature of the project that resonated with councilmember Matt Flaherty was the decoupling of rent from fees for a parking space. Tenants who don’t use parking won’t have to pay for it.
Flaherty said he hoped to see an updated shadow study by the time of the next committee meeting. Such a study should help clarify how much of the time neighboring properties will be shaded by the proposed new building. An analysis of building shadows is something that should be available by the time of committee’s next meeting on Jan. 29.
Something that won’t be available by then, because it would take longer than two weeks to do, is a traffic study. Development services manager Jackie Scanlan provided some basic information about traffic speeds and volumes in the area, but that’s not the same as a traffic study.
Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said she didn’t understand why no traffic study was required before the project got to this stage.
Such a study is supposed to be done by the time a site plan is submitted for approval—what’s currently in front of the council is the change in zoning.
In a back and forth between Volan and Curry, they established that there was a risk in over-building the amount parking. (Volan’s effort to amend the UDO late last year to make parking allowances smaller was not successful.) Volan asked Curry if he’d be willing to build less parking if it meant he could build more residential units.
When Curry’s response indicated agreement with Volan’s general position that it is a risk to build too much parking, Volan said he would stop talking, because Curry was making Volan’s point for him.
Besides the structured parking inside the building, there are 15-spaces on the west side of Pete Ellis Drive that would be added by the PUD. The spaces would expand the existing right of way onto the owner’s property. The spaces are proposed to be back-in spaces. At Wednesday’s committee meeting, Steve Brehob, with Smith Brehob and Associates, Curry’s site-planning consultant, touted the benefits of back-in angled parking.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a 20-minute presentation from neighbors of the project highlighted some concerns that are central to the proposal: density and building height. By their calculations, Bloomington’s average density is 3,600 people per square mile. In the general area of the proposed PUD, the density is already 7,475 people per square mile, they calculated, and this PUD would add to that. [.pdf of emails sent by neighbors opposing the Curry Urban Properties PUD]
Neighbors were also skeptical about of couple of the claimed public benefits of the proposal, because of potential noise. One is a “jam session” room, which is described this way by the developer:
…public music room/studio will be included for use by area musicians, music scholars, etc. for “plug-in and play” sessions to create, share and explore musical interests of those within the community looking to “pick up” instruments and create with others.
Another source of potential noise identified by neighbors is an amphitheater for live music or other performances, free to the public.
The committee scheduled the land use committee meeting for 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 29, ahead of the city council’s special meeting, now set for 8 p.m.
Piedmont-Smith chaired the proceedings on Wednesday after being chosen as the new chair of the committee, taking the gavel from last year’s chair, Steve Volan.