For the next 12 months, projects that have more than 30 units per acre or more than three stories can’t be built downtown without city review.
The Bloomington City Council voted unanimously to approve the city’s yearlong amendments on how high and dense a project a developer may build in the downtown without city review. The amendments decrease maximum heights by 10 feet and divide the density allowed by half in some places. Within the amendments were provisions that allow for waivers from this new rule, a consideration some council members approached with caution and others saw as justified.
“Downtown Bloomington is a major defining aspect of our community character, and we … view community character as a major factor in the equation of our quality of life, and therefore our economic vitality,” council member Andy Ruff said. “Bloomington has been radically altered primarily in the recent past by large residential structures in our downtown. Not taking an action like this, to me right now, is a greater risk to our community than there is in taking this step.”
Under the amendments, developers may earn waivers by featuring sustainable building practices, unique design and contributions to the diversification of housing downtown or the city’s affordable housing. Council member Dave Rollo said the ambiguity of the process has encouraged waivers in the past. He warned that the city ought to be cautious and judicious about the waivers it grants.
“I think staff and the plan commission have been stringent in allocating waivers or variances to projects,” said Terri Porter, the city’s planning and transportation director. “My understanding is that in the past, it was expected that waivers would be given, and that’s not necessarily the case, nor will it be next year or when the (Unified Development Ordinance) is written. Our hope is, in the new UDO, it will be much clearer and provide the guidance and predictability that everyone wants.”