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Zoning Code Revamp Heads To Bloomington Council

Charlie Schlenker
Business owner Dale Nafziger addresses the Bloomington Planning Commission during a hearing on the revision of city zoning rules.

The Bloomington Planning Commission on Wednesday passed concerns to the city council over housing density in areas just outside downtown.

Commission Chair Justin Boyd said the commission decided not to hold up more than two years of work to modernize zoning code over neighborhood concerns.

"After looking at it we realized this is best made to be a policy decision by council. We want the council to be able to look at it, do a better study to determine if the density in those areas are acceptable and desired," said Boyd.

"After looking at it we realized this is best made to be a policy decision by council."

The previous code included a 70 unit per acre limit for apartment development in areas next to downtown. Dimmitt's Grove and west-side residents voiced concerns shared by several commissioners that retaining that standard could impact the character or neighborhoods and perhaps reduce downtown redevelopment activity by encouraging purchase of less expensive land just off the downtown.

The panel recommended the council ask staff to do a study on appropriate density limits and report back in under a year.

Another commissioner, Tyson Mohr, also highlighted a revision that would remove council authority to change zoning board decisions on requested variances. Mohr said that would leave the courts as the only recourse for residents.

"It's a pretty big change in their power. Personally, I'm not sure I agree with it. But, I'm not sure about the role of the Planning Commission to opine on on that. It seems like that is more between the ZBA and the City Council," said Mohr.

Mohr said the theory behind the change is to remove potential political motivations for changes to zoning cases.

But he said he's not completely comfortable with appointed and not elected people making such final decisions. Mohr said the revision would not affect council ability to rule on special use permit requests.

The Historic Preservation Commission is expected to undertake a review of the proposed code pertaining to its area of authority.

Much of the work to revise the zoning code and map was far less fraught. Commissioner Dave Stanczak applauded the work of the consultant and city staff and said it is not as burdensome or complicated as the current rules.

"Efforts were made to bend over backwards to make what's in this ordinance something that is flexible and usable and not erect barriers that are a pain in the butt to business," said Stanczak.

The amendments eliminate some little used classifications such as the warehouse district and rolls it into the existing manufacturing category. It also removed standards for such things as a telegraph station and created rules for solar and wind power installations in town, said City Planner Katie Simpson.

The new ordinance also reduces parking requirements and the size of parking places. It also gives business owners credit for making bicycle accommodations and further reduced the amount of mandated parking in that situation, said Simpson.

Develpers are really interested in seeing the new parking requirements adopted, because it would save them money," said Simpson.

Simpson also noted the proposal headed to the city council Feb. 25 adjusted special use permit requirements to make them easier to understand. It would allow beekeeping without a permit and chicken raising with a public hearing and a special use permit.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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