The Normal Planning Commission recommended on June 9th an optional form-based code for the Main Street business corridor in Bloomington-Normal.
Form-based code refers to new building and development rules that proponents say promotes vibrant community living and sustainability with high-density planning, slower car traffic, pedestrian-friendly design, and an improved urban aesthetic.
Two years ago, when city leaders in both Bloomington and Normal contracted with Chicago architect Doug Farr to draw up plans for the code, there was a strong opposition from Main Street businesses. Two years of negotiation between city government and business resulted in a compromise in Normal that makes it optional and eliminates certain provisions. Regulations on business signs and drive-through businesses were eliminated, for instance. The code still encourages buildings closer to the road and parking in the rear of buildings.
Under the compromise, businesses on the Main Street Corridor will now be given the option of following the older city code or the new form-based code.
Four people participated during the comment section of the hearing.
Jim Pearson, member of the Main Street Task Force, presented and supported the compromise of an optional form-based code. He noted some points of disagreement within the Task Force and suggested that the compromise presents a solution of the old city code for small businesses and the new form-based code for larger developers.
Phil Boulds, owner of Mugsy’s Pub and president of the Main Street Business Association, expressed concern over an optional form-based code eventually becoming mandatory. Boulds, a local supporter of Ron Paul in 2008, also hit upon current right-wing libertarian themes in his address, criticizing the local use of federal money for sustainability projects. He linked the federal Livable Communities Act, which if passed would provide grant money to local sustainable community projects, to the national debt and purported foreign influences.
Rachel Shively voiced support for a mandatory form-based code, expressing the view that an optional code will not bring about the kind of positive change needed for the corridor. Shively recounted her reaction to first seeing the Main Street corridor when moving to Bloomington-Normal and thought its unsightly development negatively affects the community.
Kevin Collins argued that the Main Street corridor contains many businesses that are considered local community treasures, which he implied would be jeopardized by the form-based code requirements. He cited ISU, Bromenn, Illinois Wesleyan, Gailey Eye Clinic, and stores and restaurants. Collins implied form-based proponents do not value these local businesses, and argued it was conjecture to assume that form-based code would lead to a better aesthetic on the corridor.
During the subsequent Planning Commission discussion, member Jill Hutchison said that she heard many people complain about the unsightly appearance of the corridor, for which reason she had been an early proponent of the form-based code. She also expressed appreciation of the difficulties small-business owners might have in rebuilding and thought that the current compromise meets their needs. Hutchison supported the compromise, but wondered if the established small businesses could have been grandfathered in and the code made mandatory for all new development. Member Jeff Feid wondered how, given that the code is optional, people could be incentivized to agree to the form-based code standards. Member Kathleen Lorenz thought that the work of the task force in producing an optional code moved the issue forward.
The Normal Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the optional form-based code for the city council’s consideration on June 20th.