About Those Postcards…

By Peter Dorfman

Last fall, a lot of us received an educational postcard alerting us to proposed zoning changes in the core neighborhoods. Members of Bloomington’s City Council sharply criticized that postcard, and attacked the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) for distributing it. Council members especially hated two of the card’s contentions:

First, that property taxes would go up if houses could be converted to plexes. That triggered indignant speeches about the mechanism by which Indiana reins in property tax increases year to year. But taxes are based on assessed values, and assessments are based on actual sales of comparable properties. Those assessments are continuously going up, in part because out-of-town investors are buying up Bloomington’s small, affordable houses to convert to rentals.

Jackie Scanlan, development services manager for Bloomington’s Planning & Transportation Department, has made numerous presentations on this year’s upzoning proposals. Every time, she has been asked about tax increases, and each time her answer has been: Yes, investors are buying up core neighborhood real estate and taxes are going up as a result.

Would that accelerate if they could triple or quadruple the value of these little houses as rental income generators by turning them into plexes? Jackie never admits that, but it’s not rocket science.

Then there was this statement: “Duplexes, triplexes, quads and larger apartments are proposed to be added to single family neighborhoods in Bloomington.” Council members were incensed by that one. It might have been a little premature last fall, but only because we didn’t know then where the city would map R4 zones (where developers would be allowed to build duplexes, triplexes and quads by right, and larger apartment buildings conditionally). Now we know – R4 is in every single-family neighborhood in the core (except, for some obscure reason, McDoel Gardens).

Council members said the CONA postcard was divisive and even dishonest. But this year’s zoning map shows us that every word on that card was true.

When the UDO amendments were defeated last fall, we all knew that would not be the last word on plexes in the core. We were hoping this year’s rehash of the issue would be a good faith debate on equitable sharing of the burden of Bloomington’s growth pressures.

The zoning map before us now extinguishes that hope. This map is a bludgeon. It says to critics of the upzoning plan, play ball with us, because this is how bad we can make it.

It’s a master class in bad faith.

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