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The Monroe County government is still waiting for a verdict on their plans to build a parking garage after more than two hours of debate Monday night. The eight-story garage would be next to the County jail on Morton Street. It would have 268 spaces reserved for county employees. The County needs approval from the Bloomington Plan Commission, which heard the case for a second time last night. The plans for the garage would require the plan commission to allow for eight exceptions to downtown building codes, including a 30-foot height variance. Although the garage has been reduced from nine floors to eight due to criticism during the February hearing on the project, there are still portions of the facility that reach 90 feet. Additionally, the project does not meet code for providing retail space on the first floor because the ground floor would be used as an emergency evacuation facility for the county jail.
County Commissioner Patrick Stoffers told the Plan Commission that approximately 250 county employees currently park in the Monroe County Convention Center parking lot, and that the county pays fifty thousand dollars a year to then shuttle employees to work. In an effort to reduce the size of the parking garage, the city offered to lease spaces in existing garages to the county. The County turned down that offer. City Council Member Steve Volan, who spoke during public comment, said that using county funds to build an additional garage was irresponsible.
Much of the public comment concentrated on the benefits of having high numbers of pedestrians downtown. Local Architect Mark Cornett said that downtown is increasingly becoming a “drive in, drive out” community, giving the example of a coffee shop located in Smallwood that had to close because students were bypassing the retail level and taking the elevator directly to their cars. Already this year downtown development has caused Bloomington’s City Council to reexamine relationships between the plan commission, an appointed body, and the elected officials who serve on the council. Throughout Monday’s meeting, commissioners, staff, and the public spoke about last month’s approval of the large Graduate Hotel on Kirkwood Avenue, the relocation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital, the potential expansion of the convention center, and repeatedly called Smallwood Apartments “a mistake.” The city plan commission’s jurisdiction over what the county can build on its downtown land displays another conflict of authority, and multiple times throughout the meeting talk came up of county operations leaving downtown Bloomington. Commission member Chris Smith reproached the elected officials in the room for being behind in the creation of a growth policies plan, or GPP.
Speaking in favor of the parking garage were county council member Cheryl Munson and Larry Jacobs of the Chamber of Commerce. Along with Volan, city council member Dave Rollo also spoke against the project. And members of Decarcerate Monroe County objected to the ground floor blueprint, which they say looks unchanged since a jail work release proposal was dropped from the development plan. Because comission comment indicated the project would not pass if it were voted on, Commission president Jack Baker made a motion to continue the hearing for an additional month. That motion was passed 7-1, with commission member Jane St. John speaking against the trend of passing developments that do not reflect the community’s values.
The garage is scheduled to be considered again at the next Plan Commission meeting on April 13th.