Vacation of alleys for hospital site redevelopment gets yes from Bloomington council on second try

At its meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously to vacate parts of two alleys in one of the blocks near the former site of the IU Health hospital.

The request came from the Hamilton administration through the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC).

The block in question is bounded by Morton and Rogers streets on the east and west, and by 2nd and 1st streets on the north and south.

The vacation of alleys approved by the council on Wednesday was the same proposal that had failed on a 4–5 vote in the first week of April.

But the council used an uncommon procedure from Robert’s Rules—called “renewal” of a motion—to consider the question again on Wednesday.

Convincing the council to revisit the question were several concessions made by the administration in connection with the planning for the former hospital site, which has been named the Hopewell neighborhood.

Some of the concessions involve eventually adding public right-of-way in the form of alleys and pedestrian connections, which will have the effect of limiting the size of buildings that can be constructed on the block. The alleys to be added would be in different locations from those that were vacated.

In addition, a new overlay district will be developed for the Hopewell neighborhood, and some of the parcels will be re-platted with smaller dimensions

Complaints about the size of “monolithic” and “gargantuan” buildings in Bloomington have recently become a more common talking point for some councilmembers. Earlier during Wednesday’s meeting, in connection with a different alley vacation request, Dave Rollo said, “I find that large monolithic buildings have become a blight in Bloomington.”

The administration was prompted to grant the concessions in part because under IC 36-7-3-15, if a vacation proceeding is “terminated,” then another one can’t be initiated for another two years, no matter who owns the real estate. As the memo from the planning department puts it, the council’s approval was needed “because of the critical need for site preparation for redevelopment and to avoid a statutory two-year delay before submitting a subsequent vacation application.”

As part of the now-approved plat and alley vacations, Madison Street will be extended south to 1st Street, from its current intersection with 2nd Street. And a new “greenway street” called West University Street will be built between Rogers and Morton Streets.

The alleys eventually to be added will be 20 feet wide and run east-west in the northwest, northeast, and southeast parts of the area. They’ll need to be approved by the RDC. In addition, north-south pedestrian connections, likely around 12 feet wide, will be dedicated in the northwest, northeast, and southeast parts of the area.

The idea is for the city council to pass a resolution to direct the plan commission to consider creating an overlay zoning district specifically for the Hopewell neighborhood. The overlay district would describe the intent, boundaries, use specific standards, parking standards, access standards, and other development standards that would be unique and necessary for the redevelopment for area, according to the planning staff memo.

The presentation to city councilmembers on the intended next steps, if they were to approve the alley vacations that night, was made by city engineer Andrew Cibor. (It’s pronounced “see-bore”).

Cibor told councilmembers that does not take the vacation of right-of-way lightly. He said, “Right-of-way vacations are a really big deal.”

Cibor thanked the councilmembers he’d consulted after the failed 4–5 vote in early April, for their help to sort out the considerations that were important to them in order to move forward with the overall project.

Voting to give up the right-of-way in early April were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Sue Sgambelluri, Jim Sims, and Ron Smith. Voting against the vacation of the alleys were: Matt Flaherty, Dave Rollo, Kate Rosenbarger, Susan Sandberg, and Steve Volan.