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Income tax may raise to support juvenile services

The Monroe County Council showed support for raising a local income tax April 8. But the council pushed for the tax to cover even more expenses than it already does, raising questions that led the council to delay a vote on the issue. The tax is known as the Juvenile County Option Income Tax. It originally supported only the county’s Youth Services Bureau.

But in recent years the county has also used the tax to pay for juvenile probation officers. Now, Council President Geoff McKim said the council would also like to use the tax revenue for maintenance and other expenses.

“We decided to broaden the scope of the expenses that we would consider could be paid out of the juvenile county option income tax,” McKim says, “I created a committee to work with courts, YSB and the commissioners office to come up with a more accurate accounting of the costs of running our juvenile facilities.”

At a recent work session, Circuit Court Judge Steve Galvin asked the council to increase the tax. But he said his request, which would have brought the tax as high as .085 percent, needs to be increased even further.

“We presented what we thought were the bare budget amounts necessary to provide for juvenile services,” Galvin says, “However we didn’t include amounts for utilities, repairs, maintenance, security and other one-time expenses over the next five years. So we added those in and suggested a rate, but the rate is entirely up to the council.”

If the council agreed to Galvin’s request, it would nearly double the rate for that particular tax. Under the proposed rate, a county resident who earns $30,000 next year would pay $28.58 towards the juvenile services.

Legislative Update, February 2014

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On February 1st, local legislators sat down to summarize recent activities in the statehouse in one of their quarterly legislative updates. Speakers included: Bob Heaton, Peggy Mayfield, Eric Cook, Matt Pierce and Mark Stoops. This event was recorded on location at the Showers Building by Community Access Television Services for Standing Room Only on WFHB.

New Area Code Coming to Bloomington Area

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A new ten-digit area code system will be implemented for residents in Indiana’s 812 area code region on September 6, 2014.

On March 1, residents will still be able to use the 812 area code, but should start using 10 digits when they make a call.

Spokesman for the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor Anthony Swinger explains why a new area code change is being implemented.

“It’s important to keep in mind that 930 is just being added to the 812 area,” Swinger says, “Anyone with an 812 number right now will keep his or her number after the change. The 930 numbers are going to be added after October 6. The reason for the new area code is because the 812 area code, which has stayed unchanged since 1947, is close to running out of numbers. The industry projects that in the middle of 2015, 812 will no longer have any numbers for new phones and customers. So, it’s necessary to add the new area code so there’s a large enough pool of numbers.”

The dialing system will help usher in the new 930 area code, which will take effect in the fall.

The new area code is being added using what is called the overlay method. Swinger says this method has been used by 37 states in the U.S. for area code change-overs since 2008.

The discussion to use an overlay or a split method was a year-long case that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ordered in July 2013.

After the case closed, the IURC decided that the overlay method would be the least disruptive. Swinger explains how the new system will affect residents in the 812 region.

“The changes will affect everyone to one degree or another,” Swinger says, “The main way the changes will affect folks in Bloomington and south central Indiana will be the need for 10 digit dialing for local calls. Instead of just dialing 7 digits, it will be necessary to dial 812 than the seven digits. What begins Saturday is a six month period to adjust to 10 digit dialing. If the old habit comes up in this grace period, the number will still go through.”

On September 6, residents can continue to use the 812 area code but will have to use ten digits to make a call. When October 6 rolls around, residents will have to begin using the new 930 area code and continue to use ten digits to place a call.

Aerial Photos of Bloomington Approved for Property Assessment

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The Monroe County Commission approved a $271,000 contract on February 21 with a company that plans to take aerial photographs of the entire County.

The company, Pictometry International Corporation, would fly over the area to take high-resolution pictures for the County Assessor’s office.

Assessor Judy Sharp said one way her staff uses images like these is to detect changes in properties, which can affect their assessed value and in turn their property taxes.

“This is the third time we’ve done this,” Sharp said, “We fly over every three years because Monroe County is such a fast-growing community. In three years, you have a lot of new product out there. This company can actually tell us the changes, good or bad, to a piece of property”

Sharp said the contract, which covers three years, includes a stipulation that prevents the public from accessing the photographs.

“It is strictly in the assessor’s office,” Sharp said, “The city police could use this, but it isn’t a tool just anyone use because it’s licensed. You can go online at our 39 degrees GIS website which does something very similar, but it isn’t what we use.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

Bloomington Approves New Commercial Building At 3rd and Washington

On Feb. 10 the Bloomington Plan Commission approved a plan for a new building downtown that would include a convenience store. The four-story building would also contain three apartments and room for additional businesses.

The new structure is planned for the southwest corner of 3rd and Washington streets, on a site that has most recently been the location of a laundromat, CrossTown Cleaners. Doug Bruce, who has done architecture work on the project, said the owner’s idea is for the convenience store to serve people waiting for buses downtown.

The building is owned by Song Kim, who also owned the laundromat. It is just north of the current Bloomington Transit building, and it’s just east of the new Transit building under construction at 3rd and Walnut streets. Commission member Pat Williams asked how deliveries to the convenience store could affect nearby traffic.

The site is smaller than most downtown lots, and Bruce said there would be no room for large trucks to pull in. Williams said she is skeptical about the delivery plan.

Trish Sterling, who owns a commercial building just southeast of the proposed store, said she is also concerned about the building’s effects on traffic and parking. The plan for the four-story building includes seven parking spaces. Sterling said her building’s spaces are already used frequently by other businesses.

A lack of parking in the area caused the failure of a recent project just two blocks east of the proposed store. The owners of the Taste of India restaurant on 4th Street tried to relocate to 314 East 3rd Street, but the commission rejected the plan largely because there wasn’t enough parking. Commission member Chris Smith addressed Sterling’s concerns, but said the city would like to see the site developed and they have limited options.

The commission later voted to approve the building, including six different waivers from the city’s zoning rules.

 

“Bamboozled”: Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens Neighborhoods Caught In Legal, Political Dilemma

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Last year an attorney for the city of Bloomington discovered what she said was a problematic piece of city code, a law that she said was itself illegal. The clause was in the city’s rules governing historic districts, and within a few months the City Council corrected the glitch.

There was relatively little debate at the time, but in the months since the correction, it’s become clear the change could have longstanding effects on property rights, particularly in two city neighborhoods.

WFHB looked into the history of the error and how it led residents to spend years organizing, campaigning and voting for ways to protect their neighborhoods, ways that, according to the city, never technically existed. Assistant News Director Joe Crawford brought us that story, including ongoing questions about how the city has dealt with the issue, for a WFHB feature exclusive.

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Maybe the strangest part of the convoluted changes to Bloomington’s Historic Preservation code is that they fundamentally alter decisions made years ago, decisions that have since been used as the basis for many, many more decisions. Last November, when Elizabeth Cox-Ash first began to understand what was in store for her McDoel Gardens Neighborhood she said she felt duped.

I really feel that we’ve been bamboozled,” Cox-Ash said.

Cox Ash has been an active member of the McDoel Gardens neighborhood association for years and she fought hard to get the area designated as a historic conservation district in 2001. The idea was to prevent radical changes to that area just south of downtown by setting limits on what could be built there and what could be torn down.

But by November, when she attended a meeting of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, she was learning that even though she lobbied and voted for a conservation district, and the city council had approved a conservation district, 13 years later she was not living in a conservation district.

In all the time that I’ve been on the Commission, I’ve never seen anything that has so offended me,” said Commission member Sandi Clothier, speaking at the same meeting in November.

Clothier had just been officially informed of the amendments to city code, which the City Council had already approved. She was frustrated the city administration didn’t consult with the Commission before making the changes, which she said were misguided.

I don’t know how it’s even legal,” she said. “You can go back and say ‘Oh well, we didn’t do this right and we didn’t do that right,’ but there are other ways to fix laws. And I think this is just outrageous.”

To understand the revisions that made Cox-Ash and Clothier so angry, you have to know that until recently, there were two distinct options for residents who wanted to set limits on development in their neighborhoods in hopes of preserving their historic character.

Those residents could try to get the city to designate their areas as a full-blown historic districts. That would mean Clothier’s group, the Historic Preservation Commission, would review almost any changes they and their neighbors wanted to make to the outsides of their homes.

Full historic districts can prevent property owners from destroying or altering historic architecture, from doing about anything that would be out of character with the surrounding houses. But some neighborhoods, although they wanted some rules, didn’t want to go quite that far. And there was an alternative, a lighter form of regulation, what were called conservation districts. In conservation districts, the Commission only has a say when buildings are constructed, demolished or moved.

Cynthia Bretheim helped draft the guidelines for the conservation district in the Prospect Hill neighborhood, which was approved in 2008.

People who lived here could modify their homes as needed,” Bretheim said. “We wanted people to have freedom to do that. But at the same time we didn’t want that to get out of hand so that we’d have a 3,600-square-foot house next to an 800-square-foot house. Then the 800-square-foot house would look really stupid.”

When the city changed the rules last year, it did away with the city’s two conservation districts in Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens. It turns out, as city attorney Patty Mulvehill discovered, state law is very specific about how cities can form those districts.

If you establish a conservation district, that district automatically expires on its three-year anniversary date unless a majority of the property owners in the district object to the elevation in writing,” Mulvehill said. “While we polled both of those historic districts at the three-year mark, we didn’t hear back from at least 50 percent of the property owners.”

Mulvehill requested an opinion from the state attorney general, who confirmed in August that the city’s law was indeed invalid.

And there’s not much debate about that point: the ordinance the city council passed during a six-hour-long meeting in April of 1995 was wrong. What’s more controversial is what the city administration did with that information.

State law says that once a conservation district expires, things don’t go back to the way they were before. If a majority of property owners don’t vote to keep the conservation district, the area automatically elevates to a full-blown historic district. Suddenly property owners are forced to go before a city commission if they want to add on to their houses or do renovations or, in some cases, make simple changes like paint color.

And so according to Mulvehill, both McDoel Gardens and Prospect Hill neighborhoods are now full-blown historic districts.

“The elevation occurred,” she said. “The city can’t undo that because state law has already required that to happen.”

But, of course, state law doesn’t specifically address circumstances in which residents are led to believe they are lobbying and voting for a conservation district, and the city council approves a conservation district, and no one is apparently any the wiser that they’re all actually voting and lobbying and approving something else entirely. The opinion from the attorney general doesn’t address that either.

Some, including Sarah Ryterband, a member of the Prospect Hill Conservation District Review Committee, have suggested the decision to retroactively elevate the two conservation districts might been due to fear of lawsuits.

The fear in this case, like so much in our society, is imaginary,” Ryterband said.

The city has been sued over conservation districts in the past. In 2001 property owner Robert Shaw tried to prevent the City Council from approving the McDoel Gardens designation, but a court dismissed the suit because Shaw couldn’t prove he’d been damaged by the restrictions, which hadn’t taken effect yet. WFHB reached out to Shaw and his attorney, but neither returned calls for this story.

Mulvehill said city staff did consider the city’s legal liability as it considered its options last year.

It’s always possible for the city to be sued, regardless of the context,” she said.

Residents of both Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens have been asked before whether they’d like their neighborhoods elevated to full-blown historic districts. They were given that option during referendums in 2004 and 2011.

And they overwhelmingly refused. In 2004, of the 126 property owners in McDoel Gardens who gave their opinions, only five people said they wanted the elevation. That’s just less than 4 percent.

In Prospect Hill’s referendum in 2011, it was closer. About 27 percent of those respondents were in favor, leaving 73 percent opposed.

During both referendums, most voters wanted to simply keep the conservation districts they already had. But, as they found out years later, state law required support from a majority of property owners, not a majority of voters. Because too few property owners voted, the referendums didn’t mean much in the eyes of state law.

But they did mean something to some members of the Historic Preservation Commission, who voiced anger during the meeting in November. Member and Prospect Hill resident Doug Wissing said the owners should be given a second chance to vote.

There had to have been an option, a choice made by somebody that we didn’t go to the neighborhoods, we didn’t want to talk to them,” Wissing said. “This, again, runs so counter to my sense of grassroots democracy, what this institution is about, what this community is about, what this Commission is about.”

Wissing and Clothier made their statements of frustration at a small meeting in the McCloskey Room at City Hall in what they might have assumed would be a relatively private conversation. There were apparently no reporters present and the meeting wasn’t being filmed.

WFHB only obtained the recording last week through a public records request to City Legal. Since that meeting, those two, as well as former Commission member Danielle Bachant Bell, who also spoke out at the meeting, have declined to comment to WFHB.

And after that meeting there was a major shakeup on the Commission. Mayor Mark Kruzan, whose administration’s actions were the subject of much of the criticism, removed Wissing from the Commission in December. The mayor appoints the entire commission, and he also chose not to renew the term of Bachant-Bell. And at the end of the year Clothier left on her own accord, ending a 13-year stint on the Commission.

WFHB asked Kruzan to comment about the exodus, but he referred all questions to City Legal.

One member of the Commission who did speak to WFHB was Duncan Campbell, a longtime preservation scholar and advocate who has been on the Commission for decades. Campbell said the Commission has worked hard over the years to make residents and neighborhoods comfortable with historic protection.

This was a blow to the Commission because it makes it look as if the Commission kind of side-swiped the neighborhoods, or had some evil intent, and tricked them into becoming historic districts,” Campbell said. “That just feeds into the hands of people who are against historic preservation and particularly people have interests in developing those neighborhoods for other uses.”

So far, Mulvehill said she isn’t aware of any lawsuits challenging the new rules in McDoel Gardens and Prospect Hill. Nancy Hiestand, the city staff member who works most closely with the districts, said she will be working with the neighborhoods in the coming months to draft new rules for what are now full historic districts.

Hiestand said she hopes to get as close as possible to what residents wanted when they supported the conservation districts, what she called a “light touch on their regulation”

 

New Cell Tower To Be Built Near Bloomington

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The Monroe County Plan Commission gave its approval January 21 to a company seeking to build a new cell tower southwest of Bloomington.

County Planner Jackie Scanlan told the commission there are no other towers near the proposed site, which is on East Lane, just west of State Road 37.

Scanlan responded to a question from commission member Scott Wells.

“The consultant report said that the closest is at least two miles away,” Scanlan said.

County zoning law does not allow cell towers to be built within a mile of another tower. The county ordinance also requires co-location, meaning a given tower should be made available to multiple companies to use.

Wells praised the county’s rules, saying that they limit the proliferation of towers throughout the county.

“What’s so good about our ordinance is that if you go up to Morgan county, right in the middle of the county you’ll see three separate towers, and I’m glad we have the potential to eliminate the clutter,” Wells said.

Jennifer Jones spoke on behalf of JB Towers, the company seeking to build the new 190 feet tower.

Jones said the county’s ordinance limits competition in the area, which will benefit her Fort Wayne-based company.

“Something unique about our company is that we don’t work specifically for any one cell phone company,” Jones said, “We own the tower ourselves and it’s our business plan to co-locate the towers.”

The project requires a variance from the county ordinance, because it is closer than 200 feet from the property line.

Commission member John Irvine said the county should rethink that part of its law, which is intended to prevent a tower from damaging another piece of property if it falls.

After the discussion, the commission voted unanimously, in support of rezoning the property to accommodate the new tower.

Bloomington Transit Contracts Local Artists To Beautify New Downtown Transit Center

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Bloomington Transit announced it has awarded contracts for exterior design and art work for the new Downtown Transit Center, which is currently under construction on Third and Walnut in downtown Bloomington.

Local architect Matt Ellenwood was selected for the facility’s exterior benches and bicycle racks.

His design was selected as the winning entry from among thirteen entrants in a national competition sponsored by the Bloomington Arts Commission.

“We’re planning on having 22 bike racks scattered throughout the facility,” Lew May, general manager of Bloomington Transit, says, “Any kind of transit facility needs places for people to sit and wait for the bus, so we will have those as well.”

Ellenwood’s designs are said to reference the curves found in the Transit Center’s canopy design, as well as the wheels of buses and bicycles. The benches and bike racks will be fabricated locally by Jerico Metal Specialties.

In addition to the bike racks, there is planned to be around a half-dozen secure bicycle lockers at the new facility.

The Arts Commision also chose artist Dale Enochs to create a mural for the west wall of the center. The mural, entitled “Breakaway”, is comprised of overlapping wheel shapes. The mural will be fabricated from powder-coated, hand-painted aluminum shapes that attach directly to the wall. The majority of the aluminum shapes will stand slightly away from the Center’s wall, in order to create shadow lines around the individual pieces. The mural will be approximately 22 feet wide and six feet tall.

May says decisions have not been made on the future of the current, soon-to-be abandoned Transit Center and that it is hoped that the new transit center will open to the public by late Spring of this year.

Council Member Chases Down Alleged Burglars

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Early this week Bloomington City Council member Andy Ruff accidentally found himself involved in an issue that confronts the city every holiday season: burglary. Police say the incident, and the foot chase that ensued, resulted in two arrests that appear to have solved a string of east side break-ins. WFHB Assistant News Director Joe Crawford has the story for a WFHB feature exclusive.

Krista Detor & Friends – WFHB Local Live Remote Broadcast Part 1

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On Wednesday, December 4, 2013, WFHB’s Local Live crew headed to Airtime Studio for a remote broadcast with Krista Detor and her many musical friends – Tim Grimm, David Weber, Amanda Biggs, Steve Mascari, Jim Krause, Anne Hurley, Janiece Jaffe and Justin Teague. Celebrating new albums, along with some holiday cheer.
SETLIST PART 1
Krista Detor – “Red Velvet Box
Tim Grimm – “King of the Folksingers”
Jim Krause & Anne Hurley – “Gabriola”
Krista Detor – “Blowing Kisses”
Amanda Biggs & Justin Teague – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Krista Detor – “Steal Me a Car”
Krista Detor – “Belle of the Ball”
Jim Krause & Anne Hurley – “Persephonie”
Krista Detor – “Flat Earth Diary”

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