Bloomington will decrease the minimum lot size for houses, require fewer parking spaces and make it simpler to get permits to build duplexes, despite vocal opposition from residents of a west Bloomington neighborhood.
After three public hearings at City Council meetings this year, the Bloomington council passed the measure 5 to 2.
Mayor Tim Busse said he was proud Bloomington is one of the first suburban cities to make these kinds of zoning changes, following cities like Richfield and Roseville.
"Cities look to Bloomington, they really do," Busse said.
Dozens of residents have spoken at city meetings this year in opposition to the change. Many did not like the idea of changes in their neighborhoods, where they prize the larger lots. Others were skeptical of city planners' statements that the changes could create less expensive homes in the years to come, because of the current high cost of construction.
Council Member Dwayne Lowman said he was skeptical too, but he said doing nothing would not make homes more affordable.
"I'm surprised this is the lever we think we should be pulling first," said Council Member Lona Dallessandro, who voted against the changes. She advocated a focus on construction of more homes and apartments affordable to low-income people. The controversy generated by the proposals was not worth what she predicted would be an incremental change in affordability, Dallessandro said.
Nick Johnson, a city planner, said the measures could help lower costs across the city in the long run, but that was not the only goal of zoning changes.
"We've been guilty of focusing on housing affordability and closing the homeownership gap but there are other goals as well," Johnson said.
The changes will also create more options for home buyers who want smaller houses, a smaller lot or less garage space. The city has many such smaller homes built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but zoning changes in the late 20th century started requiring new homes be built on larger lots, with larger garages.
Earlier this year, neighboring Richfield passed measures much like those that were approved in Bloomington. The Richfield regulations also allow duplexes to be built in any residential neighborhood.
Richfield is showing one way the city can step in to push the construction of more affordable homes.
The city's "Richfield Rediscovered" program has been selling city-owned vacant lots, typically for about $100,000, to people who want to build owner-occupied homes. The city chooses who gets the lots based on competitive applications.
With two lots that will be sold to builders next month, Richfield is prioritizing applicants who want to build duplexes.