Should an 87-acre parcel in the southwest corner of Bloomington be rezoned so that a new Monroe County jail can be built there?
That’s the question that Bloomington plan commissioners will start tackling at their regular meeting on Monday (Oct. 10).
Instead of voting at that meeting on the rezone request from Monroe County, city plan commissioners will likely move the matter to a second hearing to be held at their November meeting.
The county’s request would change the zoning of the land from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be under MI. A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.
Monroe County has made an offer to purchase the property for about $10 million. But that offer is contingent on an eventual rezone, approved by the city council.
The plan commission’s recommendation on the rezone, for or against, will be a big factor eventually considered by city councilmembers when the request comes before them.
Even though it’s possible for the plan commission to waive a second hearing, that’s not what Monroe County is requesting. When president of the county board of commissioners Julie Thomas spoke with The B Square on Friday, she said Monroe County had not asked for a waiver of the second hearing, which is a common request.
Thomas is the appointee from the board of commissioners to the county’s plan commission. “We get those requests [to waive a second hearing] all the time,” she said. But the requested rezone and its purpose is “substantial,” Thomas said, so it warrants two hearings.
Thomas has previously linked a rezone approval to discussions with Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration about a potential transfer of county-owned downtown land to the city—so that the city would be able undertake an expansion of the Monroe County convention center. If the 87-acre parcel can’t be used for the new jail, Thomas wants the downtown land as a backup plan.
But based on an announcement from Bloomington on Friday, discussions between the county and the city about the convention center expansion look like they could have come to a permanent halt.
The county’s request was originally supposed to be given a first hearing in front of the Bloomington plan commission at its September meeting. But the county failed to post timely notice of the hearing at the property.
The memorandum from the Bloomington planning staff gives an idea of the likely focus of deliberations next Monday: Does the planned use of the property as a jail, conform to the city of Bloomington’s comprehensive plan?
The Bloomington planning staff memo stops short of recommending denial of the county’s petition for a rezone. Instead, it expresses “concerns”:
The department has concerns about the map amendment request, and how the request aligns with the comprehensive plan, as well as the implications of the desired use and its lack of transit access at this location.
The county has given written responses to Bloomington planning staff questions, which could be the starting point for deliberations on Monday.
One of the planning staff questions is about a new “neighborhood connector” road on the parcel that is included in the city’s transportation plan.
The county’s response says that the county intends “to build a roadway that will accommodate law enforcement and public safety personnel as well as the general public.”
Another planning staff question asks how using the land for a jail squares up with the “transform theme” that is called for in the city’s comprehensive plan.
The county responded to that question by calling the proposed use the “embodiment” of the transform theme. Part of the county’s answer reads: “This facility is expected to deviate from the norm of warehousing inmates, it is to provide much needed services and programs to allow positive change to those who enter the system.”
In connection with a rezone request, there’s no legal requirement that a site plan be submitted. But the planning staff memo points out that the plan commission and the city council will likely expect to see some kind of site plan to get an idea of what is envisioned for the site.
The county’s response to that point was to indicate there won’t be a site plan available, because it is a rezone request—the county is still working on designing the site.
Monday’s meeting of the Bloomington plan commission is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.