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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.

 

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.

State law changes regarding historic districts in Bloomington

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At a meeting yesterday the Bloomington City Council discussed changing the city’s rules regarding historic districts. Most discussion surrounded a change that city attorney Patty Mulvehill said was required by state law.

Conservation districts are less restrictive to neighborhoods than full historic districts, which require the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to approve all exterior changes to homes. Instead, designating an area as a conservation district is intended to prevent radical changes.

In conservation districts, major events like demolition and new construction require prior review. Several residents of the McDoel Gardens Neighborhood, which is a conservation district, spoke in favor of keeping the city laws as they are. One of those residents was Paul Ash.

“I just wanted to emphasize what an excellent tool this is, it’s not broke, let’s not fix it, let’s just keep going the way we are,” Ash said.

Members of the City Council said they were sympathetic with the residents’ concerns. But member Dorothy Granger said the city didn’t have any other options.

“I agree that what we have is good, and I just want reiterate that the changes we have to make are state changes,” Granger said, “We will work very hard to work very that the people within the conservation districts understand what we have to go through.”

Residents of the city’s three conservation districts will now have to hold a vote to keep their current statuses. Council member Tim Mayer asked Mulvehill to explain the logic behind the state law.

“What I try to explain is that unfortunately what we see in higher level of government is that we see people who have written the law without ever practicing it,” Mulvehill said, “It’s kind of just what we’re stuck with.”

During a straw poll at the end of the meeting, the Council indicated support for the changes in the law. All seven members who were present voted for the change.

Bloomington Plan Commission Delays Decision For Lots Under Construction on Kirkwood

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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.

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