Sovereign immunity means a fence for Bloomington post office

In 1914, a new building for Bloomington high school was constructed where Seminary Park now sits, between Walnut and College, on 2nd Street.

It’s the same year when Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” was published, with its proverbial line from the storyteller’s adjacent landowner: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

In mid-May the US Postal Service started building an eight-foot-tall fence around its branch just south of the park.

With its fence construction, by the standards of the narrator’s neighbor in the “Mending Wall,” the USPS has made itself a “good neighbor” to the public park.

Some local reaction has been more along the lines of the storyteller in the poem: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.”

The image is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

It looks like the fence probably doesn’t conform with local zoning code. But the principle of “sovereign immunity” means the USPS, even as a lessee of the property, can build the fence the way it wants, according to Bloomington’s legal department.

Continue reading “Sovereign immunity means a fence for Bloomington post office”

Law requiring occupancy affidavits for renters put off at least 2 weeks by Bloomington city council

A decision on a proposed new local law that would require landlords and tenants to sign occupancy affidavits, and file them with the housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council until June 16.

The unanimous vote to postpone final action came after public commentary from one smaller-scale landlord and a representative of the local apartment association. They called into question the need for the new local law.

As councilmembers were mulling a longer postponement, until July 21, HAND director John Zody told them, “I would encourage the council to fix a date where we would hear this again, if possible, so that we can work off of a timeline.”

Zody told councilmembers the new ordinance is a priority for the administration.

It became a priority, Zody wrote in response to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, when the state legislature enacted legislation that prohibits the city from requiring the issuance of a tenant’s rights and responsibilities document. Bloomington’s rights and responsibilities document included a section similar to the occupancy affidavit. [SEA 148]

According to a “whereas” clause in the ordinance, Bloomington has “a demonstrated problem enforcing over-occupancy in residential rental units.” It’s a claim that drew skepticism during  public commentary.

The ordinance would require landlords to make a “diligent inquiry” into the family relationships, if any, among tenants, and list names of tenants, and the nature of those relationships. Continue reading “Law requiring occupancy affidavits for renters put off at least 2 weeks by Bloomington city council”

Occupancy affidavits for smaller rental properties mulled by Bloomington city council

Excerpt from definition of “family” in Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

Owners of Bloomington rental properties with four or fewer units might have to start submitting “a fully executed occupancy affidavit” to the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.

Under a new ordinance proposed by the city’s administration, owners and tenants alike would need to sign statements about the number of adult occupants in a rental unit, and their relationship to each other.

The idea is to enforce the definition of a “family” in the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO). Bloomington’s UDO sets a limit of three for the number of unrelated adults who count as a family.

Adults who are related by blood or marriage are not restricted in number in the UDO’s definition of a family.

At its Wednesday meeting, the city council’s housing committee gave the administration’s proposed ordinance a first look. With a few grumbles, the committee voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the full council for possible enactment at the council’s June 2 meeting. Continue reading “Occupancy affidavits for smaller rental properties mulled by Bloomington city council”

Bloomington duplex zoning ordinance enacted on 6–3 vote, revised citywide zoning map OK’d on 8–1 tally

On votes that were taken on five different days, starting on May 4, Bloomington’s city council has approved an ordinance that changes the status of duplexes in the basic law of land use in the city.

The final vote came on Thursday (May 13).

In the course of its deliberations, the council considered five different amendments to the ordinance.

Two of them were successful—the one making duplexes a conditional use, instead of a permitted use (Am 02), and the one that imposed a cap of 15 duplexes per year and a two-year 150-foot buffer around parcels that are granted a conditional use permit (Am 03).

Instead of being disallowed in the central residential districts of the city (R1, R2, and R3), duplexes will now be allowed, but subject to a review by the board of zoning appeals for a conditional use permit.

The final amendment—to add consideration of undue impact of traffic to criteria to be considered for granting a conditional use permit (Am 05)—failed on a 3–6 vote. Only Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith supported it.

Sue Sgambelluri, who had joined the trio in supporting the failed effort to disallow duplexes in R1, R2, and R3, did not throw her support to Am 05. She said that the general criteria in the unified development ordinance (UDO) on review of conditional uses were sufficient, without adding conditions that are specific to duplexes.

It was the same split, but flipped, that determined the 6–3 vote on the ordinance as amended. Only Rollo, Sandberg, and Smith voted against it. Continue reading “Bloomington duplex zoning ordinance enacted on 6–3 vote, revised citywide zoning map OK’d on 8–1 tally”

Rejected 4–5 by Bloomington city council: Affordable housing link to more bedrooms in duplexes

On a 4–5 vote taken Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council rejected an amendment to a proposed zoning ordinance that would have tied a higher number of bedrooms in a duplex unit to affordability requirements.

Voting for Amendment 04 were its sponsors, Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg, who were joined by Ron Smith and Sue Sgambelluri. Voting against it were Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Jim Sims.But by the time the council recessed its meeting around 11 p.m., its work on Ordinance 21-23 was still not finished.

The council left off in the middle of public commentary on Amendment 05, which would add potential undue traffic congestion as one of the criteria the board of zoning appeals would need to consider, when granting a conditional use permit for a duplex.

The council is set to resume its session at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (May 13).

Under Amendment 04 to Ordinance 21-23, which failed on a 4–5 split, 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.

Under the failed 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.

Voting for Amendment 04 were its sponsors, Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg, who were joined by Ron Smith and Sue Sgambelluri. Voting against it were Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Jim Sims. Continue reading “Rejected 4–5 by Bloomington city council: Affordable housing link to more bedrooms in duplexes”

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

On 9–0 vote Bloomington dials down duplexes from permitted to conditional use

Duplexes will not be a permitted (by-right) use in Bloomington’s central residential districts. But they will still be allowed, as a conditional use.

That’s the outcome of Wednesday’s continuation of a city council special session that started on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, councilmembers voted unanimously to amend Ordinance 21-23. As recommended to them by the city’s plan commission, the new law would have established duplexes as permitted (by-right) use in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts.

In the city’s current UDO (unified development ordinance) duplexes are not allowed in those districts.

The 9–0 vote to amend Ordinance 21-23 restored to conditional use the proposed status of duplexes in R1, R2, and R3. That had been the basic recommendation of the city’s planning staff.

The granting of a conditional use permit will require a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals.

On Tuesday, the council had considered an amendment that would have changed the status of duplexes in the R-districts to disallowed, but it failed on a 4–5 tally.

Among Wednesday’s roughly 40 public commenters and councilmembers alike, the conditional use amendment that was approved on Wednesday was generally considered as a kind of compromise position.

But the negotiations on some additional restrictions to Ordinance 21-23 are not yet done.

Based on council deliberations on Wednesday, three additional amendments will be considered, when the same special meeting continues on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

As councilmember Susan Sandberg put it, the additional amendments will add some “teeth” to the restrictions on duplexes in the ordinance. Two of them are already drafted, numbered Amendment 03 and Amendment 04. Continue reading “On 9–0 vote Bloomington dials down duplexes from permitted to conditional use”

City council: Duplexes won’t be disallowed in Bloomington’s central residential areas

An ordinance that would change Bloomington’s basic law on land use, so that duplexes would be permitted (aka “by right”) in central residential areas, has survived a proposed amendment that would have disallowed duplexes there.

At a special session of the city council on Tuesday, Amendment 01 to Ordinance 21-23 failed on a 4–5 vote. It got support from its sponsors, Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, and Ron Smith, who were joined by Sue Sgambelluri.

Voting against the amendment were Jim Sims, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

The current unified development ordinance (UDO) disallows duplexes in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts. The failed amendment would have preserved that state of affairs, where existing duplexes can persist as non-conforming uses, but no new duplexes can be built.

Likely to be considered on Wednesday, when the special session is set to continue at 7:30 p.m., is an amendment to Ordinance 21-23, sponsored by Sims and Piedmont-Smith, that would still allow duplexes in R1, R2, and R3, but only as a conditional use. The granting of a conditional use permit requires a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals. Continue reading “City council: Duplexes won’t be disallowed in Bloomington’s central residential areas”

Zoning for duplexes in Bloomington: Public comment to continue next Tuesday at special Bloomington city council meeting

Just before midnight on Wednesday (April 28), Bloomington’s city council voted to end its committee-of-the-whole meeting on the topic of zoning laws regulating duplexes.

The meeting ended in the middle of public commentary before the council reached a point of taking any of its customary straw poll committee votes.

Here’s the basic question that will eventually be decided by the council: Will it be legal to build new duplexes in some residential areas of Bloomington where they cannot currently be built?

Council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas confirmed to The Square Beacon that a final council vote on the question of duplexes could come  as soon as Tuesday, May 4.

A special session will be set for that day at 6:30 p.m., it was announced at Wednesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

If the city council changes the law so that new duplexes are allowed in specific districts, another layer of the decision will be: What is the process under which duplexes will be allowed?

Will it be a by-right process with no public hearing? Or will it be a conditional use process that includes a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals?

The council’s decision to end the committee meeting just before midnight was made on a 5–3 vote. (Council president Jim Sims was inadvertently missed on the roll call.)

The end of the meeting came at a point when a couple of dozen people still had their virtual hands raised to speak during the public comment period on Amendment 01 to Ordinance 21-23.

The remaining public commenters will have to wait until next Tuesday (May 4) at 6:30 p.m. to have their say. That’s when a special meeting of the council will convene, to continue the deliberations.

Continue reading “Zoning for duplexes in Bloomington: Public comment to continue next Tuesday at special Bloomington city council meeting”

UDO action highlights: No notices for by-right ADUs, no reduction in parking max for medical clinics

After setting a stop time of 10:30 p.m. for its meeting on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council managed to grind through eight ordinances that change the city’s basic law on land use, which is the unified development ordinance (UDO).

Wednesday’s meeting ended just as the clock hit half past 10 o’clock.

The votes on all eight ordinances were unanimous on the nine-member council, even if the votes on some proposed amendments were split.

A few of the ordinances were technical corrections or clarifications that were so uncontroversial that they received no council debate or public comment, before passing on a 9–0 vote.

That means out of the 10-ordinance package that was recommended to the city council by the city’s plan commission, just two pieces of legislation are left for consideration.

The two remaining ordinances, which are controversial, will get their first deliberations on Wednesday (April 29April 28) next week, at a committee-of-the-whole session.

One of the disputed ordinances covers the allowed use of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in residential neighborhoods where they’re currently not allowed.

The other ordinance that’s expected to generate contentious debate is the proposed new citywide zoning map. The map includes areas designated as R4 (urban residential), which is a new kind of district that includes triplexes and quadplexes among its allowable uses. Continue reading “UDO action highlights: No notices for by-right ADUs, no reduction in parking max for medical clinics”