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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”

City Council Lowers Parking Meter Fines

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The Bloomington City Council voted yesterday to do away with the stiffest penalties for violating the city’s parking meter rules.

Council President Darryl Neher introduced an amendment to city code that set a fine of twenty dollars for all parking meter violations.

The amendment removed the escalating fine structure the Council passed earlier this year, which would have resulted in fines as high as one hundred dollars for failure to pay meters.

Neher read the new language that will be part of the traffic code that said the fine will increase to $40 if it is not paid within seven days.

The Council did not discuss the amendment or ask any questions of Mayor Mark Kruzan’s administration, which first put forward the change.

The council did vote to approve the measure, but Council member Andy Ruff voted against it and member Steve Volan abstained. Neither member explained their votes.

Later in the meeting, the council voted to install a neighborhood parking zone in a roughly six-block area south of downtown.

The zone is aimed at alleviating a problem with the area’s street parking, which is commonly used by drivers going downtown or to the Indiana University campus. The zone was initially proposed to stretch from Lincoln Street east to Henderson Street, and from Second Street south to First Street. But Neher proposed the council exempt First Street from the new rules.

The zone would keep most drivers who don’t live in the six-block area from parking on the streets there. Council member Tim Mayer said the city should study the parking situation on First Street before setting parking restrictions there.

The Council voted to approve the new parking zone without including First Street.

CATSweek: Same-Sex Marriage Resolution, Rules For Secondhand Shops, Proposed Recycling Facility

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In this episode of CATSweek, produced through a partnership between WFHB and Community Access Television Services:

The Bloomington City Council passed a resolution in support of same-sex marriage December 4th; The Board president of the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District announced plans November 21st to renew discussion about a controversial recycling facility; On November 25th, the Ellettsville Town Council held another debate about new regulations on secondhand shops…And more.

Watch the full show on the CATS website.

As Recycling Prices Go Up, City Votes To Fund Materials Recovery Facility

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The Board president of the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District announced plans Nov. 21 to renew discussion about a controversial recycling facility.

At a meeting of the District’s Citizens Advisory Committee, Board President Steve Volan said he would reintroduce a measure that was voted down earlier this year. The measure would allocate $60,000 to study the feasibility of building a materials recovery facility, also known as a MRF, which would process recyclables.

“The study for a clean MRF has been done,” Volan said, “We’re talking about being able to do a dirty MRF which takes the waste stream itself and recycle items out of it. As a public asset it would reduce such a dramatic amount of waste that much less would need to be trucked to another landfill.”

The District’s Executive Director, Larry Barker, said much of the waste the district currently pays to have hauled to a landfill could be used for other purposes.

The district collects trash in the county, and it pays the company Republic Services to haul it to a landfill in Terre Haute.

“The ultimate goal is to get as possible to zero waste,” Barker said, “And that means nothing going to a landfill. Food and yard waste are currently going to the landfills and those can be pulled out to be put into a machine to actually create energy.”

Many of the arguments for building a MRF concern the increasing costs of waste management in the city and the county. Volan said Republic Services is increasing the prices it charges to the city next year.

“Part of the reason I’m supportive of this investment is that the city’s cost of disposal of trash and recyclables will be going up to 46 dollars a ton and the recycling that they’ve been taking for free for the past three years will go up to 46 dollars a ton too,” Volan said, “This results in a six-figure cost to the city that we didn’t anticipate.”

The feasibility study was initially part of the District’s budget for 2014, but the funding was removed in August because of dissent from two District Board members. Those members, Iris Kiesling and Patrick Stoffers, are also County commissioners, and they represent the County on the District Board.

Although those two were the only votes against the MRF on the seven-member board, they were still able to strip the funding, partly because of poor attendance by other members. The board is expected to vote again on the funding at its meeting Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Monroe County Courthouse.

Daily Local News – December 6 2013

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Indiana State Police say there have been too many car accidents to count, a result of the winter storm that began last night and has continued throughout the day; A report on the trend to privatize government social services painted a particularly harsh picture of Indiana’s contract with IBM; Hamilton Logging has begun logging operations in the most recently sold area of the Morgan Monroe State Forest back-country area, a one hundred-acre piece of the forest set aside in 1981 as one of the most natural, primitive places left in Indiana; Carbon capture and storage, a new approach intended to reduce carbon emission, may face a challenge in gaining public acceptance according to a new study co-authored by Indiana University researchers; Blueline Media Productions is partnering with the South Central Community Action Program, or SCCAP, to provide a free day of holiday portraits for low-income families in Bloomington this Sunday.

VOLUNTEER CONNECTION
Volunteer Connection, linking YOU to current volunteer opportunities in our community.

CREDITS
Anchors: Alycin Bektesh, Roscoe Medlock
Today’s headlines were written by Lauren Glapa, Jalisa Ransom, Yvonne Cheng, and Alycin Bektesh.
Volunteer Connection is produced by Wanda Krieger, in partnership with the city of Bloomington Volunteer Network.
Our engineer is Nick Tumino,
Editor is Drew Daudelin,
Executive Producer is Alycin Bektesh.

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