Rejected student housing proposal on North Walnut could be revived on Sept. 16 (Updated)

The planned unit development (PUD) zoning for a 750-bedroom student-oriented housing development on N. Walnut Street, which was defeated by the Bloomington city council a little over a week ago (Sept. 4), could be back for reconsideration on Monday, Sept. 16.

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The location and time for a special session of the city council are different from regular meetings. The special Sept. 16 meeting will be held sometime between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Convention Center at 302 S. College in the Cook Room.

Why the indeterminate start time? A meeting of the city council, the county council, the county’s board of commissioners, and the mayor is scheduled at the same location at 5:30 p.m., to discuss the convention center expansion.

The special city council meeting will start when the four-way meeting concludes.

The purpose of the special meeting is possibly to reconsider the Sept. 4 vote that defeated Collegiate Development Group’s PUD proposal for the site of the current Motel 6.

But the first question faced by councilmembers will be whether to suspend the rules to re-open the issue of the PUD for another vote. The council’s attorney/administrator Dan Sherman told The Beacon Thursday afternoon that the decision to suspend the rules will require six votes, more than a simple majority, on the nine-member council.

The special meeting of the council was called by three councilmembers—Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Susan Sandberg and Steve Volan. It was given public notice Thursday afternoon (Sept. 12), as required under Indiana’s Open Door law.

The Sept. 4 vote on the nine-member city council was 3–5–1. That is, it got three votes in favor, five against, and one abstention.

The plan commission recommended approval of the PUD zoning. That means the city council has a 90-day window, after certification of the plan commission’s decision, to either adopt or reject the PUD proposal. A non-decision by the city council by the time the 90-day deadline expires (Sept. 16) will result by default in the enactment of the plan commission’s recommendation.

Councilmember Chris Sturbaum’s abstention on Sept. 4 was as good as a yes vote, because the council needed five no votes in order to defeat the proposal.

The possibility that a reconsidered vote could come out different is suggested by the fact that two of the three councilmembers who are calling the special meeting—Volan and Piedmont-Smith—voted against the proposal from Collegiate Development Group (CDG) on Sept. 4. But they’ll need a six-vote majority to get the rules suspended in order to take another vote on the project.

Volan’s vote on Sept. 4 was in one sense not a vote in opposition to the project, because he wanted to be in the majority that night, so that he would have the right, under the council’s rules, to bring back the vote for reconsideration.

What Volan wanted was for the council to postpone action, because aspects of the PUD were revised to accommodate some suggestions from councilmembers, but had not yet been memorialized in “reasonable conditions” attached to the PUD proposal. Volan wound up withdrawing his motion for reconsideration on Sept. 4. That motion did not need a suspension of the rules, because he made it before the meeting was adjourned.

The 90-day deadline for council action ends on Sept. 16, the city council’s attorney/administrator, Dan Sherman, told The Beacon on Thursday afternoon. Because that’s the same day as the special meeting, a successful vote by the council on Sept. 16 to postpone the PUD would have the effect of approving it, he said. If not all councilmembers were able to attend, say one were absent, and the vote on Sept. 16 ended in a 4-4 tie, that would also result in approval of the PUD by default, Sherman confirmed.

When The Beacon talked to Volan Thursday afternoon, he said that opening up the question again but then not achieving a decision was a risk—because the project could wind up getting approved by default, not because it had five votes in favor. Volan said if it were apparent on Sept. 16 that’s what was going to happen, he would withdraw the motion.

Collegiate Development Group, based in St. Louis, has been kept in the loop about the possibility that their project would get another vote. Volan told The Beacon he’d spoken with representatives of CDG about the wording of the council’s “reasonable conditions,” which he’d like to see added by a vote of the council next Monday.

The possible subject of  “reasonable conditions” are several changes to the project that were presented to the city council at its Sept. 4 meeting  The reduced number of bedrooms, from 820 to 750, was a result of slicing the top floor off one of the buildings. Based on the formula used by CDG to calculate its contribution to the city’s housing development fund, the bedroom reduction dropped the amount of the donation from $2.46 million to $2.25 million.

Other changes presented to the council on Sept. 4 included the addition of a 2,000 square foot green roof and 50 solar panels that could generate 20kW of power—for common areas and the 457-space parking structure that was a part of the development.

Between the first and second hearings of CDG’s proposal by the city council’s land use committee, parking in front of the building was eliminated in favor of a plaza for outside seating, and the building was moved closer to North Walnut Street.

Sherman told The Beacon that CATS is scheduled to record the four-way convention center meeting. And he’s asked CATS to stay for the council’s special meeting as well.

Sherman has served as the council’s attorney/administrator for nearly three decades. The procedure that’s being used to convene the Sept. 16 special meeting—it’s being called by three councilmembers—is one he can’t remember ever having been used before.

The other options for a special meeting are for the mayor or the president of the council to call it.

Updated 09-14-2019 at 6 p.m.: On Friday afternoon the city council’s information packet for the coming week was posted to the city’s website. It includes the following draft reasonable conditions for the PUD:

  1. Ordinance 19-12, as certified by the Plan Commission, shall be revised by the following Reasonable Conditions.
  2.  During deliberations at the Land Use Committee on 28 August 2019 and subsequently at the Regular Session on 04 September 2019, the Petitioner proposed changes, which are attached to this document. These include:
    (a) CDG Bloomington Revisions – a two-page narrative, with six bullet points as of 28 August 2019, and another five bullet points which were added as of 04 September 2019.
    (b) Revisions to the Overall Site Plan and Elevation Package dated 8/22/19, which do not reflect all of the revisions described in the above narrative.
  3. The Common Council adopts the reasonable conditions set forth in Section 2 as clarified and modified below:
    The project will also:
    Commit to offer on-site parking only a la carte, and not include parking spaces in rents.
    Commit to an amount not to exceed $300,000 to be spent, in consultation with Planning & Transportation, to complete the sidewalk network from the project to 19th on Walnut Street, and from Walnut to Dunn Street on 19th Street, or to equivalently enhance alternative transportation to serve pedestrian, bicycle, and other non-automotive traffic from the new apartment building.
    Commit to funding a 5-mile-long Bloomington Transit bus route with a bus running every 30 minutes, during the IU academic school year, 12 hours a day Mondays through Thursdays and 10 hours a day on Fridays.
    Commit, in addition to the additional brick already committed to on the west facade, to additional brick directly above the sign marked “Seward Foundry” on both the west and south faces.
    Commit to a ratio of 0.556 structured parking spaces per bedroom.