Monroe County says no to rezoning, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use – The B Square

In a rare split vote, Monroe County commissioners denied a request to rezone certain properties east of the city of Bloomington.

The owner had asked for a rezoning, in order to use a farm located on 19 acres as Airbnb, that is to say a short-term rental.

Jason Voorhies’ specific proposal was to change the zoning from Estate Residential 2.5 to Agricultural/Rural Reserve, which would have allowed the property to be used as a tourist home/cabin.

The zoning change was accompanied by a commitment by Voorhies to request a historic preservation overlay. According to the Indiana State Historical Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), the existing farmhouse and associated barn structures are listed as “contributory”. It’s a designation that means the property met the basic requirement of being pre-1970, but is not historic enough to be considered ‘outstanding’ or ‘notable’.

Part of the case that Voorhies tried to make to the commissioners was that the income from using the property as a short-term rental would help him rehabilitate and maintain the farmhouse and two barns.

Wednesday’s vote by the three commissioners was not unanimous. Lee Jones voted yes while Penny Githens and Julie Thomas voted no. But as the person appointed by the board of county commissioners to the planning commissioner, Thomas had voted for rezoning at the June 21 meeting of this group.

The plan commission’s recommendation was only in favor by a 5 to 4 margin. Joining Thomas in this vote were: Jerry Pittsford, Dee Owens, Amy Thompson and Bernard Guerrettaz. Trohn Enright-Randolph, Geoff McKim, Jim Stainbrook and Margaret Clements voted against the planning commission’s recommendation.

As Thomas said last week, when commissioners first heard the request, “I voted yes, on the original petition, but I’m nothing if not protean and willing to change my mind on the basis of the facts and data presented to me”.

A few dozen of the property’s neighbors attended last week’s meeting of commissioners to oppose the rezoning, due to the negative impact they believe use as a short-term rental would have on their quality of life and character of the area. Several of them spoke at the public hearing.

Stewards said the decision was not easy. Penny Githens called it “the hardest rezone we’ve had to review”. One of the objections from neighbors was the likely use of a firepit by short-term tenants. Githens said she thought a hearth would end up being used, with or without the rezone, so it wasn’t a deal breaker for her.

For Githens, it’s concerns raised by neighbors – increased travel in the area and major holidays. Githens said, “I’m very, very concerned about what we’ve heard from neighbors about inbound and outbound traffic, and the inability to control large parties.”

Some of the opposition from neighbors was based on the fact that the Voorhies family no longer lives on the property. Voorhies countered by saying he could get to the property faster than firefighters.

Commissioner Lee Jones also saw the possibility that some of the neighbors’ concerns could be realized anyway, should the Voorhies family return to live on the property.

Jones said: “I believe they have three daughters who will eventually become teenagers. And these girls might decide to party — sometimes their parents might even leave them there alone. Jones added: “I seem to remember this sort of thing when I was young.” Jones also said, “I think three teenage girls could cause an awful lot of extra traffic on their own.”

Jones also cited the property’s potential for historic protection, which she says is unlikely, if rezoning is not granted.

For county commissioners and plan commissioners, including Thomas, what weighed in favor of rezoning was the prospect that the farmhouse and barns might benefit from a historic projection. Thomas also said this week that the character references provided by Voorhies were “incredible.”

Strong opposition from neighbors tipped the scales against rezoning.

As Thomas said, “We have neighbors who live there who are worried about what a short-term rental will do to their neighborhood.” As for the potential negative impact, Thomas said, “Believe me, I’ve heard stories from outside our area, but also from the city of Bloomington and the county, about tourist homes.”

Although the decision was difficult, Thomas said, she was divided. “And when I’m split in the middle. I just can’t support a rezoning,” Thomas said.

An offer made Wednesday by Voorhies to help win votes did not have the hoped-for impact. At Wednesday’s meeting, he said he would be prepared to make a zoning pledge to remove all additional uses permitted in the new zoning except those related to short-term rentals.

Thomas responded to this by supporting the amended petition, but added, “I just think it’s unfortunate that it’s kind of an 11 a.m. offer.” She was in favor of the amendment, but added: “I’m just afraid that the people who live in this neighborhood haven’t had the opportunity to intervene now. And I don’t think it’s fair to them.


Comments are closed.