Anyone wanting to raise chickens in the City of Bloomington would need a special use permit under a proposal included in an overhaul of the city’s decades-old zoning laws.
Bloomington’s Planning Commission approved the new language in a proposed rewrite of the code Wednesday following a public hearing at city hall.
Chicken coops are currently outlawed in the city.
The commission gave direction to consultant John Houseal of Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates to make a series of modifications to the proposed code which governs where certain types of buildings and businesses can be located.
The commission plans to hold another public hearing on the proposed changes Dec. 12.
Lina Wombacher said she was disappointed to learn when she bought a home in Waterford Estates on the city’s eastern edge she had a neighbor who owns a chicken coop. That resident lives in unincorporated McLean County, where the coops are legal.
She said some of her neighbors do not have fences or hedges to obstruct the view of the chicken coops, which she claimed is lowering property values in the area.
“They are buying their homes because of the school districts, the location,” Wombacher told the commission. “If they wanted to be farmers they would have gone elsewhere. They are residential, prideful homeowners.”
Commission Chairman Justin Boyd proposed creating a special use permit for the chicken coops to give nearby residents a chance to voice their concerns.
“My biggest part is having the neighbors have a say in it,” Boyd said.
Under a special use permit, anyone wishing to create a chicken coop would have to apply to the city and go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Boyd said he believes the commission has struck a good compromise.
“We’ve come a long way from the original proposal, and I think when both sides walk away just a little bit irritated, you probably have a pretty good plan in place,” Boyd said.
Wombacher also expressed opposition to a separate proposal to allow beekeeping. She said she worries bees might migrate into other people’s yards seeking nectar from fruit trees and could put children at increased risk of bee stings.
“How do you tell the bees not to come over to your property?” Wombaher asked.
The proposed zoning changes would allow up to four chickens for each acre, and one additional chicken for each additional half acre. Beekeepers would be allowed to have two beehives for lots smaller than one acre and one additional hive for each additional half acre.
Jeff Henry is a beekeeper hobbyist. He told the commission he polled neighbors before he started his beekeeping operation to make sure it would not cause a problem.
“We live in a very concerned neighborhood on (East) Washington Street,” Henry said. “Everyone I have talked with was in favor of having bees and everyone in the neighborhood was in favor and enjoys the honey.”
Houseal told the commission the zoning recommendations were intended to foster beekeeping in the city in keeping with its comprehensive plan, while respecting neighbors’ rights.
“We thought it was a balanced compromise, that allowed beekeeping, that allowed more and bigger properties, but was respectful of the fact that, first and foremost, these are residential areas,” Houseal said. “These aren’t agricultural areas and beekeeping is not the primary intent of these areas. The primary intent is for people to live here in peace in their house.”
The commission also reviewed proposed changes to how downtown would be divided into three zoning areas.
The city’s central business district would encompass five to seven blocks primarily for shopping and dining. A transitional area would serve as a buffer between the city’s core and its residential areas to allow for mixed-use development. The third portion of downtown to the south would encompass its warehouse district and allow for arts and urban agriculture.
“In the long term it’s going to help with the walkability, creating more of a core downtown where people are interested and engaged in their surroundings, so downtown will become more of a destination,” Boyd said.
Once adopted, the proposed changes would likely go to the city council in January 2019.
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