906-bedroom project for former Kmart site to get Bloomington plan commission review

Queued up for possible inclusion on the Bloomington plan commission’s May 10 agenda is a proposal to redevelop the former Kmart site on the south side of 3rd Street in the College Mall area.

The proposal from Trinitas, called The District at Latimer Square, would leave the Bloomingfoods grocery in place.

But the proposal would demolish the vacant Kmart building and excavate the parking lot, for construction of a 340-unit multi-family and student-oriented housing development, offering a total of 906 bedrooms.

The layout of the project would include five residential buildings, one leasing and amenity building, and a 385-space parking structure. The site will include another 100 surface parking spaces, and 57 parallel parking spaces, for a total of 542 parking spaces.

The student-oriented apartments would be constructed in the three buildings on the northern part of the site. The multi-family housing would be constructed in the two buildings on the southern part of the site.

The units will all be rental, none for sale as condos, and will be offered at the prevailing market rental rate in Bloomington. So the project will not include any “affordable units” defined in terms of HUD standards for area median income (AMI).

The timeframe for the project, according to the Trinitas submission to the city’s planning and transportation department, includes a hearing in May in front of the plan commission and a second hearing in June, and a construction start in November this year, with completion by 2023.

The project does not include a rezone request, which makes its approval “by right.” That means it is supposed to meet all the standard conditions required in the MC (mixed-use corridor) zoning district.

It also means that the project does not need approval from the city council.

Among the zoning requirements that the project is proposed to meet is 40-percent green space (pervious surface). The current amount of green space on the site is just 7 percent. Part of the green space proposed by the project is provided by two proposed parks.

The project has to be reviewed by the plan commission because of its large number of bedrooms. Not affecting that required review was city council action on April 21, which increased the threshold triggering a plan commission review from 30 to 50 bedrooms.

Trinitas has set up a project webpage,  which includes a link to a Youtube recording of a neighborhood meeting held on March 31.

At the neighborhood meeting, residents asked a number of questions using the chat function of the Zoom video conference platform.

Trinitas director of development operations Mark Becher responded to question about affordable housing. Becher said that part of the reason no “affordable” units would be offered is that the land is not part of a “qualified census tract,” which would otherwise be advantageous for low income tax credits.

Becher also said the project would use the land under a long-term lease from the Latimer family, who currently own the real estate. That kind of long-term lease arrangement would make individual ownership of any of the units difficult, he said.

Jeffrey Fanyo, with Bynum Fanyo, which is the engineering firm for the project, answered a question about water supply. City of Bloomington utilities (CBU) had made it “abundantly clear,” Fanyo said, that the project would have to ensure its own water pressure. That means a booster pump at every building to maintain the pressure.

Becher said the project, as currently proposed, does not include any commercial retail component, but some flexibility was built in to allow for commercial retail in the future.

The existing retail landscape is uncertain, Becher said, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing prevalence of online shopping. “We didn’t necessarily think it was prudent to include retail in the project right now,” Becher said.

Ryan Call, with ELS Architecture and design, elaborated on how the flexibility for future retail would be achieved. On the northwest corner of the site on Kingston Drive, there’s a landscaped area that could eventually be developed as some kind of retail component. That would require a reduction of hardscape elsewhere on the site, Call said.

For a project on the opposite side of town, Trinitas is paying to have Bloomington Transit (BT) offer additional bus service. The city council approved that roughly 1,000-bedroom project in March 2020.  For The District at Latimer Square, Becher said that Trinitas would rely on existing BT service and possibly add its own after-hours shuttles to campus.

The site has been vacant for about a half decade. It was in April 2016 when it was announced that the Kmart at the site would be closing in late July that year.