Bloomington to get 85 apartments in place of 85 hotel rooms on North Walnut

The image of the Wingate by Wyndham parcel is taken from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

A project that will convert the 85-room Wingate by Wyndham hotel on North Walnut Street to a multifamily project with the same number of apartments received approval from Bloomington’s plan commission on Monday.

The vote was unanimous.

Monday’s session was the regular monthly meeting for the plan commission, which a week ago wrapped up its work on a 10-ordinance package of proposed changes to the city’s unified development ordinance. Wednesday’s meeting kicks off the city council’s work on that package.

Unlike that 10-ordinance package, the conversion of the motel to “micro-apartments” will not get a review by the city council. Monday’s plan commission’s approval cleared the way to the permitting process, which could mean 85 additional one-bedroom apartments available for rent by the fall.

That’s based on the guesstimated timeline given on Monday by Gene Goldstein, with Bramic Design Group, the architect on the project. Goldstein said that construction on the project would probably take 60 to 90 days.

With Monday’s approval, Goldstein thinks the plans could now be submitted to the city within three to four weeks for building permit review. Goldstein is estimating a couple of months for permit review.

Plan commissioners were supportive of the site plan, in part because of the additional option that this kind of smaller unit would provide. Even at “market rate,” which is how Goldstein characterized the pricing, these smaller units would be less expensive than a full, traditional one-bedroom apartment, commissioner Karin St. John said.

Commissioner Jillian Kinzie echoed St. John’s thoughts on the topic, saying, “I think this is a really great repurpose of this space.” Kinzie added, “To introduce another housing option in this, what will become a student corridor, I think is really great to see.”

Plan commission president Brad Wisler agreed that the additional housing is a benefit, but expressed some concern about the loss of hotel space and its potential impact on tourism.

Wisler said, “I do have a little bit of concern about what that means for tourism, if all of our tourists are pushed farther out.” Wisler added: “That being said, we don’t have a tourism crisis in Bloomington, we do have a housing crisis.”

About the project itself, Goldstein said the conversion would require minimal work. The project would turn each hotel room with its bathroom into a “studio unit” or a “micro unit.” A 4-to-6-foot long kitchenette with a sink would be installed, with some minor appliances that would not exceed the existing electrical capacity of the building. The rooms would get new flooring and new paint, Goldstein said.

Goldstein also said some of the hotel-oriented uses, like the lobby and reception area, would be turned into a co-working space. The plan includes a better fitness center, a game room, and a laundry facility—amenities that would be appropriate for apartment living, Goldstein said.

The proposal was a site plan review, not a request for a zoning change, which is why the city council does not need to review the proposal. And it is only because the number of dwelling units (85) is greater than 30 that the proposal even had to come in front of the plan commission for approval.

That means there was no room to negotiate about various requirements that plan commissioners might have liked to see. Commissioner Kinzie asked Goldstein about the idea of incorporating solar panels. She asked if there’s been any discussion along those lines in the ownership group.

Goldstein replied: “There’s been no discussion so far about solar. That’s the honest answer.” He continued, “They haven’t really thought of doing that in any of the projects, to be honest. And we’ve done these in a number of cities.”

Goldstein added, “Honestly, we’ve talked to so many people—you’re the first person that’s really kind of put it on us. And it’s a fair question.”

Solar power can’t be mandated, Bloomington’s development services manager Jackie Scanlan told commissioners. That’s because it’s a by-right, limited compliance site plan project.

It’s also the reason plan commissions could not compel the owners to reduce the number of parking spaces from 87 to some lower figure. The amount of parking that’s allowed for residential projects is expressed in terms of a ratio: parking spaces to bedrooms. The current mixed-use corridor (MC) zoning would allow up to 1.25 spaces per bedroom.

Assuming the city council adopts the proposed new zoning map, the parcel will be rezoned to mixed-use student housing (MS)—along with a chunk of land north of 17th Street between North Walnut Street and the Indiana University campus area. The MS district would allow a maximum of 0.75 spaces per bedroom.

As Scanlan put it, “You cannot compel someone to meet the requirements of a district that doesn’t exist.”