Johnson’s Creamery: No new alley means no swap, but council’s vacation stands, project can proceed

On the list of Bloomington public rights-of-way there is no longer an east-west alley cutting across the former Johnson’s Creamery parcel off 7th Street and The B-Line Trail.

The city council took care of that when it voted 8–1 to grant a request from Peerless Development to vacate the existing alley at that location.  The dissenting vote came from Dave Rollo.

That clears the way for a housing project that Peerless wants to build.

But on Tuesday night, Bloomington’s board of public works denied a request from Peerless to dedicate a new alley, just to the south of the one that had been vacated.

The denial of the new alley dedication does not stand in the way of the plans that Peerless has for development of the parcel with a 51-unit apartment building. The site plan for the building has been approved by the city’s plan commission.

The plan commission’s approval of the building’s site plan was contingent just on the vacation of the alley. The proposed apartment building would have sat partly in the middle of the alley that was vacated on Monday night.

The way the new alley dedication had factored into the mix was as part of a “swap” that Peerless had proposed, after getting pushback from some councilmembers and the city’s administration about giving up the existing right-of-way without getting something in exchange.

It was in May of this year when Peerless approached the city council with a request for a vacation of the existing alley.

At one point, the administration urged the council to demand, in exchange for the alley vacation, a $250,000 payment from Peerless for a public art installation to commemorate the now partly-demolished historic smokestack that sits in the alley that was vacated..

One scenario that was floated was that the council’s vote to vacate the existing alley could in some sense be made contingent on the dedication of the new alley. The idea was that Bloomington John Hamilton could veto the council’s alley vacation, if the board of public works did not accept the dedication of the new alley.

But Hamilton signed the alley vacation on Nov. 17, which was the day right after the council approved it.

Two councilmembers—Matt Flaherty and Isabel Piedmont-Smith—said explicitly at the council’s Nov. 16 meeting that their vote in support of the alley vacation was not contingent on the acceptance of a new alley dedication.

With the mayor’s signature on the alley vacation, the board of public works was relieved of any role in possibly wrecking an alley vacation deal. At Tuesday night’s meeting, city engineer Andrew Cibor apprised the board of the mayor’s approval.

On Tuesday night, public works director Adam Wason laid out for the board the city’s reasons for not wanting to accept the new right-of-way. “We don’t see a public benefit to this…,” Wason said. “It will not serve the city or any of our utility needs,” he added. Adam said the city did not see any reason to take on future maintenance responsibility for an alley that does not benefit the city.

The reasons that the administration gave for not wanting to take on the new alley as right-of-way were used by some councilmembers the previous week as justification for giving up the existing right-of-way.

City engineer Andrew Cibor told the board that the alley would connect to an existing north-south alley and extend east towards the The B-Line Trail—but not all the way to The B-Line. Cibor said it would essentially be a dead-end alley.