In the pre-pandemic times of early February 2020, Bloomington’s city council approved the planned unit development (PUD) zoning for the 3.2-acre empty lot at the northwest corner of Pete Ellis Drive and Longview Avenue.
The lot is not yet developed with the project that the new zoning allowed: a building with studios, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom apartments totaling 344-bedrooms, which also incorporates a 306-space parking garage and 19,000 of commercial space.
It’s also not exactly the project that will eventually be constructed, based on a request from developer Tyler Curry (Curry Urban Properties) for the zoning to be tweaked.
After the Bloomington plan commission’s approval on Monday night, the next step for the changes to the PUD will be review and a decision by Bloomington’s city council.
Under the modified zoning request that was approved by Bloomington’s plan commission on Monday night, the bedroom count doesn’t change much—from 344 to 341 bedrooms.
It’s the mix of unit sizes that Curry would like to change. In addition to the studios, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom units previously proposed, Curry would like to add up to 35 3-bedroom units.
Besides the unit mix, the other significant change is a request to be released from a condition that a “green wall” be constructed as a facade on the south side of the building, to help mask the parking garage from view. Under a proposed new design, the parking garage is wrapped by apartments—it’s not visible from either the north or south side of the building.
The “green wall” condition has been altered to allow as an alternative some kind of art element, to break up the long face of the building on that side into something that gives the impression of separate facades.
Another condition that drew some discussion at Monday’s plan commission meeting involves traffic and the potential need for a traffic signal at the intersection of Pete Ellis Drive and Longview Avenue. It’s currently a four-way stop.
The original condition required that a traffic study be completed. An amendment to that condition, proposed by city engineer Andrew Cibor, requires that if the traffic study indicates a signal is warranted, then the developer is responsible for installing it.
It’s not believed that a traffic study will conclude that a traffic signal is warranted, due to the increase in traffic caused by the project.
But as Cibor put it, if the traffic study were to find a signal is needed due to added traffic generated by the project, and if the developer did not have to pay for and manage the installation of a signal, “it would not be fair to the city, or the taxpayers.”
About the idea that the new IU Health facility, about a mile north of the proposed location, would, on its own, generate so much additional traffic that a signal at Pete Ellis and Longview would be needed, Cibor pointed to the importance of timing the study right.
“If this project is able to collect their traffic counts early in the school year, I expect that will be before the hospital site reopens,” Cibor said. He added, “I would encourage it’s in their interest to do that. And that would just make things really, really simple.”
Based on remarks from the developer’s representative, some traffic counts have already been collected and the current dilemma is how to adjust for the impact of the pandemic on the counts.
Cibor raised another traffic safety concern, related to the proposed widening of the non-motorized path on Longview. That’s the side of the building where the parking garage entrance is proposed to be located.
From the drawings it looked to Cibor like the building in places goes right up to the path. For Cibor, that raises concerns about visibility of pedestrians and cyclists to drivers who are entering and exiting the parking garage.
The petition states: “Petitioner will analyze best solutions and install safety/warning controls at parking garage ingress/egress.” So Cibor wanted some additional information about that.
Tom Jasin, development manager with Scannell Properties, responded to Cibor by describing the possibility of both visual and audio elements where the path intersects with the garage entrance. Jasin said the audio might alert a pedestrian or cyclist by saying, “Car Coming! Car Coming!”
Cibor’s reaction to Jasin’s remarks was cautionary: “Some of those older warning systems essentially warn pedestrians to watch out for a car, when in fact the car has the legal responsibility to watch out for the pedestrian or cyclist.” Cibor added, “So wanting to be mindful of that in the design as things move forward, because it really should be on the driver’s responsibility.”
Why add some 3-bedroom units to a project that was previously limited to 2-bedroom apartments? According to Jasin, the addition of the 3-bedroom units was motivated in part by a desire to appeal to a market that might, as the result of the pandemic, include more people interested in adding some kind of home office.
Jasin told planning commissioners that the single family housing market has continually been tightening, which is among many trends that support the need for larger units.
Another consideration is that since the previous PUD zoning was approved, the estimated construction costs for the project have increased by 25-to-30 percent, Jasin said. The inclusion of 3-bedroom apartments makes for a more efficient building, and will help partially offset added costs, Jasin said.
After this week’s Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council does not meet again until July 21. The Curry Urban Properties PUD could get a first reading in front of the council as early as that date.