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Downtown Bloomington Zoning Changes Would Bring Walkability

Ralph Weisheit
The McLean County Museum of History would be at the center of a redefined downtown core, if a zoning overhaul is approved this year.

Dividing Downtown Bloomington into three zoning areas—instead of only one—could increase the area's walkability, leading people to spend more time and maybe money there, according to Bloomington's community development director.

"We currently have about a 26-block downtown zoning district right now. That's huge. That's massive," Tom Dabareiner said during GLT's Sound Ideas. "What we do need to realize is that the essential core of that downtown is what people really think of as downtown and the area we need to focus on."

A 26-block downtown zone is more like what's found in Milwaukee or St. Louis, and Dabareiner said Bloomington should be be focusing on four or five blocks as the essential core of downtown. The McLean County Museum of History would be at the center of the city's core. Dabareiner said consultants Houseal Lavigne Associates are recommending three zoning areas: core, expanded core, and transitional. All three would be designed with walkability in mind.

"Walkable is defined differently in many different ways," said Dabariener. "Do we have reasons to walk, is it a friendly walk, is it a clean walk, is it a safe walk, are there things to look at?"

The different zoning could require future windows be larger in the core, with varied facades, both of which can hold a pedestrian's interest. New zoning could also limit parking in the core, which can make a walk through a downtown area seem much longer, because walking past a parking lot is less interesting. 

Credit McLean County Regional Planning Commission
McLean County Regional Planning Commission
"X" marks the spot for Downtown Bloomington, in a map from the city's 2015 comprehensive plan. The pink and orange areas are "regenerative" and "preservation" neighborhoods and also prioritized in the plan.

While future zoning changes would affect development across the city, downtown is getting more attention, in part because of the city's 2015 comprehensive plan. Dabareiner said as a rule, he thinks downtown deserves more attention. 

"But I have to go back to our comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan in fact said we want to devote more time and energy to making our downtown thrive," said Dabareiner.

He said it's zoning and planning 101 to use the city's comprehensive plan and translate it to create zoning ordinances. 

The Bloomington Planning Commission will approve the new zoning ordinances before consideration by the City Council. Aldermen could vote on the entire overhaul in December. 

You can also listen to the full interview with Dabareiner, as it aired on GLT's Sound Ideas:

The full interview with GLT's Mike McCurdy and Bloomington's community development director.

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