4th Street parking garage may be off plan commission agenda for 3 months

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The JuanSells.com building at 222 S. Walnut next to the empty lot where the 4th Street parking garage stood, as it appeared on Dec. 2, 2019. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Every month starting in August, Bloomington’s plan commission followed a pattern. The commission continued to the following month’s meeting one of its agenda items—the city’s proposed site plan for a replacement garage at Fourth and Walnut streets.

Demolition of the old structure, with its 352 parking spaces, started in September and is now complete.

Sometimes the continuances were done administratively. But in November, commissioners took a unanimous vote on the continuance.

On Monday, at December’s regular meeting, the pattern was interrupted. The city withdrew the petition.

At the start of the plan commission’s meeting on Monday, Brad Wisler, chair of the commission, got confirmation from planner Eric Greulich that the city’s petition had been withdrawn.

Wisler said it was expected that the site plan would be “re-docketed” once “things are clarified in that case.”

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From left: city planner Eric Greulich, land owner Juan Carlos Carrasquel, city attorney Mike Rouker, and development services services manager Jackie Scanlan. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The legal case to which Wisler was referring is City of Bloomington vs. 222 Hats. It’s the eminent domain action the city is pursuing to acquire the JuanSells.com building on the south end of the block, where the previous parking garage stood.

The city’s site plan calls for a six-story replacement garage, with roughly 510 parking spaces and 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. The replacement garage would use a footprint stretching from 4th Street all the way to 3rd Street, including the JuanSells.com property.

Oral arguments were heard in the case on Oct. 7. As a Dec. 6 letter from city attorney Mike Rouker to the plan commission puts it, “[W]e anticipate that the ruling could be issued at any moment.”

In July, when the plan commission first heard the site plan, a question arose about the commission’s legal authority to hear the site plan proposal. That’s because city code requires a site plan to be made either by the owner of the land or by permission of the owner of the land.

Juan Carlos Carrasquel, who owns the building at the south end of the bock did not give permission. And he did not want to sell the building to the city. The city’s offer was $587,500. So in June, the city started the required eminent domain process .

In July, the repeated continuances began, although the commission’s vote at its July meeting did not result in a majority in favor of a continuance. Still, absent a motion to approve the site plan, the parking garage site plan got continued by default.

Now that the site plan has been withdrawn, what happens if the ruling on the eminent domain case is issued?

According to Mike Rouker, the part of the plan commission’s rules and procedures that are pertinent to the status of the site plan is this section:

Article VII. Final Disposition of Petitions

C. … No petition which has been withdrawn by the petitioner shall be placed on the docket again for hearing within a period of three (3) months from the date of said scheduled meeting, except upon motion to permit re-docketing, adopted by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Commission or Plat Committee.

That means in the next three months, if the court issues a ruling—and it’s in the city’s favor—the plan commission would need to vote to allow the city to put the petition on the agenda. After three months, the city would not need a plan commission vote to have the site plan reappear in front of the commission.

While the city could now be looking at a three-month delay, even if a favorable court ruling is made tomorrow, an even longer delay might have been possible, if a different scenario had unfolded.

Router’s letter did not propose withdrawal of the site plan. Rouker asked commissioners to vote to continue the site plan to their January meeting. And he stressed that the outcome of the vote was crucial: A denial of the city’s request for a continuance would, Rouker wrote, constitute a denial of the petition on the merits, under the plan commission’s rules. The rules to which Rouker referred are under the miscellaneous provisions:

Article VIII. Miscellaneous Provisions
B. … Similarly, if a petition is continued for three (3) consecutive hearings, any further request for continuance, even within the above-referenced deadline, requires a majority vote by the Commission or Committee. If the Commission or Committee denies such a request for continuance, the petition shall be treated as denied on the merits unless the petitioner elects to formally withdraw the petition within twenty four (24) hours.

A denial on the merits would, according to Rouker’s letter, make the process “more complicated.” Getting a continuance was, when Rouker wrote his letter,  preferable to simply withdrawing the site plan and waiting for a court ruling on the eminent domain case: [W]ithdrawal and re-docketing may further delay the consideration of the petition.” (The further delay caused by withdrawal comes from the up-to-three-month waiting period.)

By the time of the plan commission’s Monday meeting, the balance appears to have shifted. The city withdrew the site plan and accepted the possible three-month wait. The up-to-three-month wait appears to have been a favorable outcome, compared to the risk that the plan commission might have voted to deny the continuance, resulting in a denial of the site plan on the merits.

Court filings in the eminent domain case can be retrieved from the state’s mycase.IN.gov online system using the case number 53C06-1906-PL-001293.

Here’s a link to The Beacon’s previous coverage of the eminent domain action.