BLOOMINGTON — A consultant helping with a comprehensive overhaul of Bloomington's zoning ordinance pitched the case Wednesday for carving the the city's 26-block central business district into three smaller zoning districts.
"The downtown right now is B-3 — everything. It's a huge area. In fact, Chicago's Magnificent Mile could fit in your B-3 district," said consultant John Houseal at a public open house Wednesday at City Hall. He was referring to the upscale section of Michigan Avenue that runs between the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive.
Houseal's Chicago-based firm, Houseal Lavigne Associates, was hired by the city in 2016 to help draft the code revision governing the types of businesses and structures that can be located in different parts of the city.
The Bloomington Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the proposal at 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at City Hall. The council could vote on measure Nov. 26.
The revision was prompted by the city's 2015 comprehensive plan, which outlined a thriving downtown environment as one of its goals.
Houseal has suggested a core downtown district of five to seven blocks, another district with transitional areas surrounding the core downtown district and a third warehouse and arts district at the south end of downtown, arguing it's easier to redevelop compact, energetic and walkable downtowns.
The smaller, core downtown district promoting shopping and entertainment with dining on the first floors and residential spaces on the upper floors would make the area more vital, dynamic and interesting to pedestrians, said Houseal.
"That core area needs to hold true to commercial (spaces), studios, restaurants, galleries, retail and entertainment because if you begin to lose that mix, the downtown begins to lose its desirability," said Houseal.
"You couldn't have an efficiency or a condo or an apartment in the back of something on the ground floor. That would not be permitted in this code," he added.
After hearing Houseal's presentation, downtown property owner Pam Eaton said she backs subdividing the central business district.
"I think by taking the B-3 district, which was so large, and dividing it up into three districts, it really is going to open up a lot of opportunities for the warehouse district," she said. "Tightening up the immediate downtown district to provide more retail, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and gift shop businesses I see as a very positive move."
Tim Tilton, who with his wife, Vicki, renovated Monroe Center at 200 W. Monroe St., and Lua Travis, owner of The Common Grounds Grocery at 516 N. Main St., both said they want more information.
"I hope they are wanting to make the downtown more inviting and feel safer," said Travis. "I hope that they are going to keep the businesses' needs in mind. Parking is a huge issue in downtown so I hope that will be readily available."
The last major revision of the zoning code was completed in 2006. The proposed update is intended to address deficiencies and make it more user-friendly, said Bloomington Community Development Director Bob Mahrt.