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Historic conservation districts adjust to new ordinance

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The Bloomington City Council debated last week on a new ordinance that will affect the city’s historic conservation districts.

These districts are established to regulate construction and demolition, in order to prevent radical change in the affected neighborhoods. They are often supported by homeowners who oppose large new student housing complexes, or other developments that locals believe would negatively affect the neighborhood.

But the new city ordinance would force conservation districts to become even more restrictive after three years, by elevating them to full-fledged historic districts.

City Attorney Patty Mulvehill said the new rule would bring the city into compliance with the state law.

The potential change means that the city’s two conservation districts, in the McDoel Gardens and Prospect Hill neighborhoods, will automatically become full historic districts.

In those districts, all changes to the exterior of structures would have to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Council member Chris Sturbaum, who represents the district that includes Prospect Hill, said the change is unfortunate but necessary.

“This isn’t something that people who selected the conservation district wanted. They wanted the district in a way of protecting their neighborhood with the lightest kind of restriction on what they can do to their property,” Sturbaum said, “This is changing, and this is not something anyone wanted to happen, it just happened when we understood that we were outside the strict regulation.”

The Matlock Heights neighborhood on the north side of the city is currently working to become a conservation district.

Council member Susan Sandberg, who lives in the neighborhood, said her neighbors are prepared to deal with the new law.

“Matlock Heights knows what they have to do to maintain their conservation statues, and they’re fairly confident that they will have the votes and the community interest to maintain the level they were comfortable with.”

A majority of property owners would have to vote in favor of keeping the conservation district to prevent its elevation to a full historic district. Sturbaum said he supports the idea of conservation districts, and worries that new restrictions could make neighborhoods hesitant to seek the designation.

“Our regret was the harm that would be done to the tool that would preserve these neighborhoods that would allow change,” Sturbaum said, “We’re going to talk to the state and see if we can’t, over time, do some work on the legislation for the future.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the new city ordinance. Sturbaum asked the city to be patient with the neighborhoods that have been elevated to historic districts against their wishes.

Bloomington Utilities Service Board deals with complications working with private contractors

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The Bloomington Utilities Service Board dealt with some complications of working with private contractors at its meeting on Monday.

The City Utilities Department frequently hires companies to perform engineering or construction work.

Capital Projects Manager Mike Hicks explained a recent issue with two of those companies. The contractors are working on projects to improve water mains and to expand the Monroe Water Treatment Plant.

“In the execution of the work, damage was caused to Monroe County Highway roads,” Hicks said, “It’s caused by two factors, one being hauling and the other excavation from work on a water main. Our position is that there are two contractors responsible for the repairs, F.A. Wilhelm and Howl contractors. “

Hicks said the contractors have refused to deal with the issue, despite the city’s attempts to contact them. So, he said the city needs to find a different contractor to repair the roads.

“Monroe County Highway Department wants this work done this season before the asphalt plants close so it’s come to the City of Bloomington Utilities taking action to find a paving contractor to make the repairs,” Hicks said.

The board approved spending $64,000 to pay Milestone Contractors to do the repairs. Hicks said the city would attempt to recoup that amount from the contractors that caused the damage. Later in the meeting, the board discussed how the Utilities Department chooses its contractors. The issue came up when Utilities Engineer Jane Fleig told the board that a large engineering contract would be awarded to the company Donohue and Associates.

Board member Jason Banach asked Flieg about the agreement and Fleig said they have asked for a proposal from an engineer at Donohue, but no bids.

The contract is for the design of a culvert project that extends from 2nd St. to Kirkwood Ave. in downtown Bloomington.

Banach asked why the Department didn’t solicit bids from other companies to do the work, and Department Director Pat Murphy responded.

“We have a long standing relationship with Donahue and we’ve worked with them extensively. They did the initial project, they did the Jordan River culvert and 2nd and Walnut,” Murphy said, “We feel it’s more of a continuation of the project because they know the history of the project and we wouldn’t be starting anew and we think they price they are proposing is fair and reasonable.”

The contract would be for about $400,000. Banach said he has problems awarding such large contracts without getting competitive bids.

“Cheaper isn’t better,” Murphy said.

Board member Pedro Roman said approving an agreement without seeking bids would not be unusual for the board, especially when for engineering contracts.

“We’re talking about engineering, the design, not the actual construction,” Roman said, “We never bid these things.”

Flieg said that, unlike construction contracts, the city is not legally required to solicit multiple bids for professional services such as engineering.

The board will consider whether to approve the contract with Donohue and Associates at its next meeting, which is scheduled for November 18.

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