Let's Talk About the Unified Development Ordinance

posted on Nov 01, 2019 with comments

On Monday August 26th, the Bloomington Plan Commission will take up the draft of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). This ordinance, reconsidered once every decade or two, sets the basis for Bloomington's zoning districts - which means it determines how Bloomington develops.

One of the primary issues at play in the UDO is density.

The current draft of the UDO rearranges Bloomington's zoning to allow for some increased density downtown, significantly increased density around the stadium (specifically developments targeted at students are limited to the stadium area), and very gently increases density in the core neighborhoods (by allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes as a conditional use, and granny flats by right).

Of course, anything that increases density draws a lot of fire from those who are very committed to Single Family Zoning.

There's going to be a ton of misinformation and fear mongering around this as it advances, so lets clear some things up.


Single Family Zoning is not sustainable.

When you only have one family per tenth acre or more, that necessitates cars to get around. We cannot afford to continue to use the car as our primary mode of transportation - it's just too energy intensive and therefore carbon intensive. We need walkable, bikable, and transit oriented cities that allow people to live affordably with in walking and biking distance of where they work and where they shop.

In Bloomington, the downtown is one of the biggest shopping areas and IU is the biggest employer. So the core neighborhoods - close to those areas - are where we want people living! Those are the neighborhoods that need to get more dense so that more people can live in them. Before we consider any market issues or issues of affordability, this is a sheer numbers game.


Single Family Zoning is directly linked to economic and racial segregation.

Most single family neighborhoods are primarily owner occupied. To purchase a home, you have to have a 10%+ downpayment in cash. Nearly half the population of the United States has less than $1000 in savings at any given time. And those numbers are high for families of color. That means, any neighborhood centered on home ownership is naturally segregated by class and therefore by race.

And, in fact, the history of Single Family Zoning (the history of suburbs) is a history of intentionally taking advantage of that to implicitly segregate neighborhoods.

There are multiple studies that show increases in density are directly linked to desegregation.


If Bloomington is going to be affordable, while remaining sustainable and not sprawling, then we need density.  That doesn't mean density will immediately generate affordability on its own.  It is a necessary pre-condition.

comments powered by Disqus