County might hope to add convention center summit to Bloomington City Council’s agenda of annual budget, electric scooters, student housing, and parking zones

By late last week, the Bloomington City Council was getting ready to return to its normal meeting routine after a summer hiatus. Councilmembers last met in regular session on June 12; their next regular meeting falls on the last day of July.

Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 3.52.09 PM
City council activity is now at least a smidgen easier to follow, because the city’s website user interface for public meeting listings got an upgrade a couple of weeks ago. Links to materials like agendas, minutes, and packets, now show standardized text, icons, a neatly stacked layout, and mouseover behavior.

Based on some conversation at a work session last Friday, they’re thinking about how to set up the calendar for at least three topics they’ll be handling soon: a proposed 820-bedroom student housing development on North Walnut at the current Motel 6 site; possible tweaks to a still-pending ordinance that would regulate shared-use electric scooters; and some amendments to the new parking ordinance.

And based on conversation at a work session held by the Monroe County Council on Tuesday evening, Bloomington’s city council could in the next couple months be called on to participate in a four-way meeting about the proposed convention center expansion.

The potential summit-type gathering would include the Monroe County Council, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, the Bloomington Common Council and Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton. That would cover the legislative, executive, and fiscal components of the city and county government.

The idea of such a gathering was batted back and forth on Tuesday by the County Council’s president, Shelli Yoder and her council colleagues Cheryl Munson and Marty Hawk along with county attorney Margie Rice and other councilors.

It’s not clear if an overture will eventually be made by Rice to Bloomington’s council attorney, Daniel Sherman, to propose such a four-way meeting. That will depend in part on the outcome of Yoder’s appearance at the county’s board of commissioner work session on Wednesday morning. She plans to to float the idea of a four-way joint meeting, possibly to be preceded by a joint meeting of the county’s council and board of commissioners.

The impetus for a convention center summit is a desire to establish better communication and cooperation on the proposed expansion.

Like the Monroe County Council, Bloomington’s city council would need to schedule a potential four-way joint meeting around the calendar for the 2020 annual budget approval process. The County Council got a start on some budget preliminaries Tuesday night.

The city council’s 2020 budget approval process begins in mid-August with individual departmental budget proposals. It will end in late October with the adoption of a budget.

Here’s a little more detail on the three issues discussed at last Friday’s city council work session.

CDG Acquisitions Proposed PUD for Motel 6 Site

The student housing development is somewhat time sensitive—the council has to act no later than Sept. 17 on a 820-bedroom student housing development on North Walnut at the current Motel 6 site.  That’s the day council attorney Dan Sherman gave councilmembers at their work session, because it’s 90 days from the date in mid-June when the plan commission’s 8–0 recommendation in favor of the planned unit development (PUD) was certified.

If the city council doesn’t act within 90 days of certification, then under city code the PUD rezoning ordinance “takes effect as if it had been adopted…ninety days after certification.” A PUD zoning proposal is not like an ordinary site plan, which is decided only by the plan commission. That’s because a change to zoning is a change to the city’s ordinances, which the city council has the legislative authority to approve or deny.

Sherman told councilmembers they should think about whether they want to refer the proposal to their committee-of-the-whole or the four-member land-use committee. The land use committee is composed of Allison Chopra, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Chris Sturbaum and Steve Volan. Piedmont-Smith and Volan both attended the work session. Volan said he thought everyone’s interests would be best served if the PUD were referred to the land use committee, because that group has a more flexible schedule than the committee-of-the-whole.

Based on the conversation at the city council work session, the student housing PUD could face some close scrutiny from councilmembers when they deliberate on it. Concerns floated at the work session included the setback of the building from Walnut Street, and the number of bedrooms per unit. Most of the units include four bedrooms. Some councilmembers are concerned that some longer range (10-year) projections for Indiana University enrollment are for declining numbers of students.

The PUD proposal from CDG acquisitions includes a formula-based contribution to the city’s city’s affordable housing fund. If the project winds up including 820 bedrooms as currently proposed, the contribution would amount to $2.46 million.

Local Scooter Law

At last Friday’s work session, councilmember Isabelle Piedmont-Smith floated some amendments to the proposed city code to address shared-use electric scooters. Such changes to the city code were introduced as an ordinance in response to such scooters deployed in the city by Bird and Lime last fall. In May, the council put off further consideration and final enactment of the the ordinance, after agreeing on some amendments.

At last Friday’s work session, Piedmont-Smith said she wanted to explore the idea of further tweaks to amendments that had already been approved.

One tweak would require scooter riders to dismount whenever passing a pedestrian on a sidewalk (not a multi-use trail), regardless of the passing distance. Piedmont-Smith said the idea stemmed from her conversations with people in the disability community—the requirement to dismount is meant to protect those who might not have outward signs of a disability. Those with low vision or a hearing impairment or people who are just shaky on their feet were examples she gave.

A consensus view at the work session seemed to be: Even if such a provision might be unenforceable, having the law on the books could be valuable in promoting desirable behavior. Councilmember Steve Volan suggested that signs alerting people to a dismount law could be added to existing poles where “no parking” signs are posted. Councilmember Dave Rollo expressed no enthusiasm for adding more signs, but said the ordinance could be cited in pamphlets and information materials provided to scooter users.

In addition to moving violations on scooters, one of Piedmont-Smith’s possible amendments floated at the work session also addressed scooter parking. An amendment she had proposed in May, and which was approved by the council, would prohibit parking of electric scooters on all sidewalks.

At the work session she said it had been derided by the city administration, and she was looking to relax the requirement a bit, for cases where the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate scooters. Volan championed the idea of allowing scooters to be parked near street corners, where sidewalks are wider, and possibly even leaned against stop signs.

Vehicle Parking

Parking of cars got a few minutes of talk at the end of the city council work session. Steve Volan, who’s the city council’s ex officio member of the city’s parking commission, said the commission would be considering recommendations for a change to the parking ordinance at its July 25 meeting. It involves carving out a section of the newly established neighborhood parking permit Zone 6, in the Garden Hill neighborhood, west of the Indiana University football stadium. The idea would be to exclude some area around the Windfall Dancers location, in response to the dance studio’s concerns about the new zone’s effect.

The change follow several revisions to the city’s parking ordinance enacted by Bloomington’s city council at its Sept. 19 meeting last year, on a unanimous vote. Revisions involving neighborhood parking permit zones become effective on Aug. 15, so there’s an interest in handling them quickly.

An issue involving a reduction in the number of neighborhood zone parking permits that can be allocated to the Monroe County Public Library under the new ordinance—from 50 to 16—seems to have been resolved in favor of the library, Volan said at the work session. The new ordinance gave the parking services director the authority to allocate one permit to every 10 employees. And there’s a cap of 40 permits for Zone 4, where the library is located.

Responding to an emailed query from The Beacon, parking services director Michelle Wahl said the legal department had interpreted the part of the ordinance that gives her discretion to mean she can issue additional permits. From the ordinance: “The parking services director…may issue additional permits to employers without adequate off-street parking who also have twenty-five or more employees and who could not otherwise operate under the residential neighborhood zone permit system.”