On September 8, 2015, the League of Women Voters of Bloomington and Monroe County hosted the first of two forums designed to inform the public about city issues in advance of the November election. In City Issues 101, Tom Micuda, Planning and Transportation Director of the City of Bloomington, explains the city planning process in detail. The forum begins with an introduction from League of Women Voters President Kate Cruikshank.
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The Bloomington Plan Commission held off on making a decision October 7th about the first phase of a major development project downtown along Kirkwood Avenue. The Bloomington-based firm, GMS-Pavilion Properties, has proposed development on five different lots downtown. The project would include new apartments and a new building for Old National Bank. Planning Department Director Tom Micuda described the project as an opportunity for the city and that the sites are a rare opportunity for key development.
Although Micuda said the project presented an opportunity, he went on to recommend denial of the proposal before the commission. That proposal included details for just one of the five lots that are part of the overall project.
“We’ve been looking for a comprehensive proposal for these properties,” Micuda says, “We wanted to give you the opportunity to look at a plan for all four lots and be able to look at diverse opportunities for new development. Ultimately, we weren’t able to get that.”
The building before the commission would be located on the southeast corner of Kirkwood and Lincoln. It is proposed to be three stories tall and include the new Old National Bank as well as eighteen apartments.
Steve Hoffman, with GMS-Pavilion Properties, said the firm tried to negotiate with city planners for almost a year.
“We have come an extremely long way in our discussions with the planning staff,” Hoffman says, “And we feel that we’ve worked pretty well with them.”
Hoffman said the firm reduced the number of apartments in the overall plan, at the request of planning staff. He said they also included owner-occupied condos, and what he called a fifty-foot boutique hotel, again to accommodate concerns from staff.
But he said the negotiations hit roadblocks when it came to the details. For example, Hoffman said the firm was willing to commit to building the hotel, but not to designing the building until they found a company to run it.
Micuda said the developers did suggest compromises. But he said their original proposal, which was almost all residential buildings, was so far from the Planning Department’s vision for the area that those compromises didn’t go far enough.
“There are times where we did get close, but I would not describe the city as completely unreasonable,” Micuda says, “In fact fairly early in the process, the city was straightforward in our vision for the properties. We put that information out early enough so we could reach to an agreement.”
The commission sided mostly with the Planning Department, saying they wanted a comprehensive plan for the five lots. Commission member Chris Sturbaum said the approval process might seem difficult to the developers, but he said it was that way for good reason.
“People complain about the process, but it’s like sausage: the more you work at it, the better the end product will be,” Sturbaum says, “Kirkwood is worth it and we can have the same kind of discussions if we can satisfy this legitimate concern and desire for diversity on Kirkwood.
Commission member Joe Hoffman suggested the overall project be brought forward at a future meeting as a planned unit development, or PUD. A PUD is a way of grouping multiple buildings with different uses into a single plan.
No decision was made about whether to use the PUD framework, but the Commission voted unanimously to delay a vote on the project until a future meeting.