City council to decide: Is park-side residential development with little onsite greenspace a fair trade for a warehouse?

Next Wednesday (April 7), the city council could make a decision on a rezone request that would allow the redevelopment of the warehouse across the B-Line Trail from the pickleball courts in Bloomington’s new 65-acre Switchyard Park.

This week, the city council’s four-member land use committee used a second meeting to review the requested rezone—a revision to the existing planned unit development (PUD)—which would allow a mixed-use residential and commercial project to be built.

The project associated with the rezone request would require the demolition of the southern two-thirds of the warehouse, which is the part controlled by McDoel Business Center owner Tom Brennan. The project also includes a parcel not in the footprint of the warehouse, on the south side of Hillside Drive, which is now a surface parking lot.

In place of the warehouse, and the parking lot, Brennan would like to construct seven buildings, with around 235 bedrooms and up to 8,000 square feet of commercial space. Four of the buildings, on the northern part of the site, would consist of town homes—a total of 19 units with four bedrooms apiece.

Based on remarks from Doug Bruce with Tabor/Bruce Architecture & Design, the project architect, the start to any construction work would be a year or more away, if the rezone request were approved.

On Wednesday, land use committee members had some lingering concerns about the project that are associated with the rezone, centered on the amount of impervious surface it would include. The proposed impervious surface is up to 80 percent of the site, compared to 60 percent that would be allowed if the base zoning requirements were followed for the MN (mixed use neighborhood scale) zoning district.

A measure of committeemembers’ concern was the tally on their vote to recommend that the full council approve it. The vote was 1–0, with support only from Isabel Piedmont-Smith. Abstaining from the vote were Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

Reflecting some specific concerns are some proposed “reasonable conditions” put forward by committee members. Such conditions can be imposed on a PUD rezone request as part of the approval. They include a limitation on building height, required connections between the townhome buildings and the B-Line trail, and a requirement that the buildings meet “cool roof” standards.

Briefly batted around by the committee on Wednesday was the idea of asking the full council next week to refer the matter to the committee again, for a third committee meeting.

But a third committee meeting would mean it would not come back for consideration by the full council until April 21. And that is more than 90-days after the plan commission’s positive recommendation was certified to the council. If the council does not act to deny, or to amend and adopt the plan commission’s recommendation within 90 days, the PUD zoning as recommended by the commission is automatically approved.

A PUD is a kind of custom zoning, which includes its own custom development standards. The proposed rezone for the warehouse across from Switchyard Park would maintain the PUD designation, but use different development standards from the existing PUD.

That means the rezone is tied pretty closely to the proposed project, even though the city council won’t be passing judgment on the site plan.

Part of the proposal is for 15 percent of the units to be “affordable” under the HUD guidelines on area median income (AMI). The approval standards for a PUD in the city’s unified development ordinance require that more than 15 percent of units be set aside as affordable, or that income limits be set at a 10-percent lower AMI level than would have been required to earn an incentive under for a basic zoning district.

The AMI option that’s being considered for the warehouse rezone request is to reduce the AMI level, not increase the number of affordable units. During the committee meetings, it’s been Flaherty who has stressed the requirement in the UDO that PUD approvals need to be based on exceeding the incentives for other basic zoning districts.

An additional reasonable condition, that expresses the commitment to income restrictions lower than 120 percent of AMI, could be presented to the full council for consideration next week.

It’s the amount of impervious surface on the site that appears to offer the most significant potential obstacle to approval. The city’s environmental commission has weighed in against the proposed rezone, based on the impervious surface coverage, and has submitted a letter objecting to it.

Chair of the environmental commission Andrew Guenther spoke against the proposal at Wednesday’s committee meeting. He said that if the petition were approved, then the reasonable condition of “cool roofs” on the buildings should be included. But Guenther cautioned, “We just urge the councilmembers not to make a habit of replacing green space with green or cool roofs.”

Flaherty responded to Guenther’s commentary by saying, “I’ll just clarify that I don’t think of cooler vegetated roofs as a replacement for green space and wouldn’t generally make a habit of that sufficing.”

Volan put the rezone proposal in the context of a relative improvement: “The buildings that are being proposed are replacing a warehouse. So there’s going to be a net increase in green space here.”

Volan’s efforts during the committee meeting, to decrease the amount of impervious surface, focused on the width of the drive aisle, the configuration of surface parking spaces, and the diameter of the roundabout turn, which he thinks can be made smaller. The proposed dimensions for the roundabout were based on the input from Bloomington’s fire department about required access for fire trucks.

At the first land use committee meeting three weeks ago, senior zoning planner Eric Greulich said, “The proximity to this neighborhood park kind of helps offset some of those impervious surface [requirements] that the petitioner was requesting.”

The engineering challenge to demolishing just the southern two-thirds of a building is the source of a potential objection from Jefferson Shreve, who is the owner of the northern part of the warehouse, where Storage Express is housed.

Shreve’s attorney, Michael McBride, spoke at Wednesday’s committee meeting. About the partial demolition of the warehouse, McBride said, “We’ve been told that this can be done, that the property can be demolished and removed. But we don’t have any engineering report showing that it can be done. We don’t have any details on what damage is expected.”

The architect on the project, Doug Bruce with Tabor/Bruce Architecture & Design, said at Wednesday’s meeting that Shreve’s concerns and questions about the engineering issues are valid. But Bruce said those issues are not important at this stage of the process.

Bruce said, “They are not points that are an important consideration, given where we are in the process. It would be like us going ahead and picking out worrying about what color of faucets and what type of faucets we’re going to use for the plumbing of these buildings, when we’re just not at that point on the order of decisions.”

The idea is first to get the required zoning approval, and then invest in the required engineering study, Bruce said. “So nothing is impossible. I’ve seen way more complicated things done,” Bruce said.

About the idea of doing the engineering study now, without an approval, Bruce said, “All of that time and energy spent on that is kind of a moot point, if this doesn’t get approved.”

2 thoughts on “City council to decide: Is park-side residential development with little onsite greenspace a fair trade for a warehouse?

  1. So what is wrong with continuing use as a warehouse? Also, no matter the development the access via Hillside Drive is inadequate. This will also degrade the existing neighborhood on Madison Street by increasing traffic and large buildings overlooking homes and back yards.

    1. Mr. Frushour, nothing is wrong with continuing use as a warehouse. But that is not what is being requested. What’s wrong with adding housing in a location where people clearly will want to live?

      Degrade the neighborhood? This is an urban area, adjacent to desirable amenities. Do you want to prevent people from living near such amenities, and near other people, in an urban area? That seems an odd stance.

      As for traffic and streets, yes, these things change and evolve over time as living and transportation patterns evolve. There are mechanisms in the city to monitor and react to such things. These are not reasons to avoid development.

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