Duplexes get some “guardrails” from Bloomington city council, more could follow

After voting unanimously the previous night to allow duplexes as a conditional use in Bloomington’s central residential districts, on Thursday Bloomington’s city council  added some additional constraints on duplexes.

The “guardrails” that are included in Amendment 03 to Ordinance 21-23 are meant to allay the concern that single-family houses will be bought up by profit-driven developers and rapidly converted to duplexes.

The council’s work on duplex zoning will continue next week.

One feature of Amendment 03 imposes a cap of 15 duplexes per calendar year. An earlier version of the amendment had put the cap at 10.

Another feature of Amendment 03 is a geographic constraint. It adds a requirement that within a 150-foot buffer of a property where a conditional use permit has been issued for a duplex, no additional duplexes will be allowed for two years.

An earlier version of the amendment prohibited additional duplexes within the buffer in perpetuity, not just two years. That change was something that councilmember Matt Flaherty mentioned on Thursday night as helping to persuade him that he could support the amendment.

The tally when the council voted was 7–2 in favor of Amendment 03, with dissent from Steve Volan and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

Ordinance 21-23 will change the status of duplexes in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts as defined in Bloomington’s UDO (unified development ordinance).

In the city’s current UDO, duplexes are not allowed in those districts, even on conditional use.

More than a hundred people commented during public commentary, a few dozen of them at the end by asking that their Zoom chat remarks be read aloud by council staff.

Additional amendments to Ordinance 21-23 on duplex zoning could be made, when then the council continues its deliberations on Wednesday, May 12, starting at 6:30 p.m.

An additional session, on May 13, will also be set, and used if needed. Part of the still unfinished zoning work includes a revised citywide zoning map.

Next Wednesday was expected to be the occasion when the fiscal plan for Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s annexation proposal would be presented to the city council.

Instead, the annexation fiscal plan will be shared publicly on the city’s website sometime next week. The fiscal plan will be presented to the city council the following week, on May 19, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

When the council again deliberates on Ordinance 21-23 next Wednesday, queued up for consideration will likely be Amendment 04, which adds an affordability requirement.

Under Amendment 04, a duplex unit could not have more than two bedrooms per unit—for a total of four. Three bedrooms would be allowed—for a total of six—only if affordability requirements are met. (An earlier version of the amendment limited the number of bedrooms in each duplex unit to just one, unless affordability requirements are met.)

Under Amendment 04, one way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make both sides of the duplex permanently income-restricted for those earning below 120 percent of the HUD area median income (AMI). The other way to meet the affordability requirements would be to make one of the duplex units permanently income-restricted for those earning below 80 percent of the AMI.

On Thursday, in voting against Amendment 03, Volan contended that developers must not find single-family house conversions lucrative, based on data from the last year. That’s a full year after the adoption of Bloomington’s new UDO made duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes possible in other zoning districts besides R1, R2 and R3.

According to the city’s planning staff, there are at least 178 single family houses in RM (residential multifamily) and RH (residential high density) districts, Volan said. He continued by pointing out that over the last year, not one owner of such a house took advantage of the opportunity to file for a quadplex which is legal in districts RM and RH.

From that, Volan concluded that no cap on duplexes was needed to check profiteering developers.

Explaining her vote against Amendment 03, Piedmont-Smith said, “I’m against Amendment 03, because I think it would add arbitrary and inequitable limits on duplexes in our residential neighborhoods. If the conditional use criteria are insufficient to prevent direct harm to neighbors, let’s add additional criteria like Amendment 05 would do.”

Amendment 05 is also a possibility for deliberations next week. The amendment would add to the required findings by the board of zoning appeals (BZA), when it grants a conditional use permit.

A key distinction between a permitted (by-right) use and a conditional use is that a proposal for a conditional use has to be reviewed by the BZA.

Under Amendment 05, among other things, the BZA would need to find that the proposed duplex “will not cause undue traffic congestion nor draw significant amounts of traffic through residential streets.”

By more than a 4-to-1 margin, public comment on Thursday was in support of Amendment 03, which put additional restrictions on duplexes.

Some of those who spoke against the amendment talked about the notion of “compromise” and how a compromise had already been made, by not allowing duplexes as a permitted use, and instead allowing them only as a conditional use.

Others made the point that Flaherty had made on Wednesday, and to which he returned on Thursday—that limiting the focus to just duplexes, and excluding triplexes and quadplexes, was another form of compromise.

Flaherty pointed to the addition of a time constraint on the 150-foot buffer as a good compromise, and he supported Amendment 03.

Council president Jim Sims talked about the way the compromises were reached on Amendment 03, which underwent some revisions on the numerical cap and the time-restricted 150-foot buffer.

Sims said, “This was a very tough decision. However, I think once you are able to have conversation and work through some things, then I think you tend to get more toward middle ground.”

Based on remarks from councilmembers early in the deliberations on Thursday, and on some public commentary, Sims was instrumental in working with Amendment 03 co-sponsors Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg to put Amendment 03 into its final form. The final version was released late Thursday afternoon.

The four councilmembers who did not prevail on Tuesday when they cast votes in favor of disallowing duplexes were easy to predict as supporters of Amendment 03 before the night began.

The revelation that Sims had worked with the co-sponsors to put Amendment 03 in its final shape was an indicator relatively early in Thursday’s session that it probably had Sims’s support, too.

That meant it had at least the fifth vote it needed to pass. It picked up two extra votes, from Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

2 thoughts on “Duplexes get some “guardrails” from Bloomington city council, more could follow

  1. Question. If a duplex is income restricted, who verifies that this is actually happening and how is it done?

  2. “From that, Volan concluded that no cap on duplexes was needed to check profiteering developers.” By this logic, the cap would have no effect. Therefore, Volan should not have opposed it.

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