Planning notebook: Former Great Wall restaurant site could be home to 426 college students

The property where The Great Wall restaurant formerly stood on North Walnut Street, across from the northern tip of Miller-Showers Park, is now the site of a proposed 8-story student-oriented apartment building.

The building would include a mix of 3-bedroom, 4-bedroom and 5-bedroom apartments, for a total of 426 bedrooms.

That’s based on a preview of an April 10 Bloomington plan commission item given at a Tuesday morning work session by senior zoning planner Eric Greulich.

Greulich described the challenges for building on the site, which include a steep hill. There’s a minimum 30-percent landscape requirement in the zoning code, and that’s been a struggle for the developer to hit, Greulich said. But the current plans show 30.1 percent landscaped area, Greulich added.

The site is zoned as mixed-used student housing (MS) in Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

The purpose of the MS district, according to the UDO, includes the following:

The MS zoning district is intended to accommodate an adequate supply and mix of housing opportunities for students in areas adjacent or within easy walking distance to campus and along nearby commercial corridors and with easy access to campus-serving public transit and to university-provided parking, such as the area located directly west, southwest, and northwest of Memorial Stadium.

Under the UDO, the maximum height for a building in the MS district is six stories. But for this project, the developer is planning to use the UDO’s affordable housing incentives paired with the sustainable development incentives—which will allow the two additional stories.

Last year, Bloomington’s plan commission recommended and the city council adopted, a change to the incentive structure to encourage developers also to use the affordable housing incentive, not just the sustainable development incentive.

To satisfy the affordable housing incentive, the developer plans to build the income-restricted units on site, as opposed to using the payment-in-lieu option, which allows a developer to pay into a special fund that the city uses to construct income-restricted housing.

At Tuesday morning’s work session, Greulich responded to questions from Trohn Enright-Randolph, a non-voting member of the Bloomington plan commission, who is appointed by the Monroe County plan commission from its membership.

Enright-Randolph was the only Bloomington plan commissioner to attend the work session. Bloomington planning and transportation director Scott Robinson also attended.

15 thoughts on “Planning notebook: Former Great Wall restaurant site could be home to 426 college students

  1. Ummmm…what happened to the rest of the plan commission members?

  2. I miss that restaurant.

    The manager there, in his last days, complained that it was a bad location since you can’t turn in to it from College Ave. Maybe it’s worse for a restaurant, trying to attract visitors on College Ave who wouldn’t know the work-around, but still very awkward for locals too. Hopefully that will be addressed.

    1. How will the affordable units be tracked?
      A few years ago I was told by a city representative that there is no system in place to ensure affordable units go to people who qualify and need the break. The city sited privacy issues as a reason they cannot track and enforce the affordability requirements.

      1. The city does/did track compliance with affordability requirements in the past for HOME funded projects. A spreadsheet from the owner was provided to the HAND folks annually showing address, name of renters, maximum rent allowed, their current rent amt, utility allowance, % of AMI, their income, program max income, etc. We supplied this info along with copies of income qualifying proof for each customer.

        We can’t have affordable housing rental requirements with no known qualifying rules and reporting regulations. I assumed the city would simply adopt a pre-existing set of rules and apply them to their local program. The city could certainly release these types of reports after redacting the specific unit addresses and renters’ names.

      2. Steven B: Yes, if you are talking about home rental programs like Section Eight, or vouchers, you are right. There are also some home ownership programs that utilize federal grants that are tightly structured.
        That’s one reason I thought found it puzzling that the city did not have a system in place for apartment complexes prior to offering affordable incentives to builders. I asked twice and received the same answer, “we are working on it.” This was just before Covid and I have not asked since.
        Yulp, why reinvent the wheel when you could adapt a system that works for other Indiana cities.

  3. How many income restricted units are required? How many bedrooms for each unit?

  4. Will the commission look at their outdated regulations requiring retail space under newly built apartments. We have more empty retail space than can ever be filled.

    1. it’s not outdated.

      the requirement is generally only in the downtown character overlay “DCO”, which this is about a mile north of. so probably there will be no ground floor commercial requirement.

      we do have some empty ground floor commercial space — especially at 3rd and patterson. that particular space was decided by a negotiation between the administration and the developer to have a “PUD” — essentially bespoke zoning code because the regular zoning code wouldn’t have let them build anything there. that “PUD” process *is* outdated. now, planners make these decisions instead of the mayor.

      within the DCO, the commercial space is largely filled. there have been a few vacancies but they are not the majority and they have been largely transient. there is nothing near an oversupply, though i would say there are some pricing challenges!

      and even outside of the DCO, the commercial space is well-used. for example, the 10th&college apartments provided one of my favorite restaurants (3 amigos) and the closest sushi shop to my house (maje sushi). a development at 17th & college gave me the closest donut shop (square donuts) and pizza shop (hanks pizza mac…hey, it’s not any worse than swing-in was). the development at 17th&dunn gave us greeks pizzeria (they make a mean pie!) and a ridiculous smoothie-bowl shop (sometimes ridiculous is fun). there are shops that sell i don’t know…stuff for girls i guess…shampoo?…but i only pay attention to the food 🙂

      my point is, the first floor commercial requirement is pretty narrow and even where it’s not required, the businesses provide an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods. having stores that service the people who live in the city is not outdated.

      the only real failure is that one on 3rd street, which has a dozen causes but the biggest of them is just that darn street! the initial design was much better (with the businesses directly fronting onto 3rd street instead of an access drive) but pro-highway people sabotaged it.

  5. Cheaply-built eight story structure placed on a steep slope is a recipe for future cracks and other major engineering issues due to settling. This will compromise the complex’s structural integrity and safety in future years. By that time, the original builder will be long gone, having sold the building. Is this the kind of “master plan” the city thinks is worthy of approval?

    1. the devil is of course in the details but i watched how they’ve built a few tall buildings around town and the structural engineering is very advanced these days…they often have support columns going dozens of feet into the ground. the weight is effectively borne by underground formations which are much deeper than the contour of the hill. they’re not shy about moving tremendous amounts of dirt to re-shape the hill, either!

      i’ve got a friend who built his house on the edge of a ravine, in greene county where the building department has no teeth, and it’s supported by pilings just 3 feet into the ground and the ravine is pulling the low corner off his house, i think it’s moved more than an inch just in the 20 years since we built it. i’m just saying, these big buildings aren’t built like that. 🙂

      but yeah, every building will become run-down after a few decades. the dorms on campus generally reflect a very strong “built-to-last” tradition, with poured concrete, concrete block, and limestone exteriors, slate roof and so on. and even so, every few decades they need *extensive* work! they’re always in the process of redoing the exterior surfaces of buildings, and barely any of those buildings goes more than 50 years without a complete internal gutting. and the same is true of wood-frame single family residential buildings..buildings need maintenance! whether rental management companies will bother to do the maintenance is an open question.

      the biggest influence we can have on this question is whether we are building a city that will be worth anything in 50 years, or if the neighborhood on north walnut will still seem like a garbage remote outpost on a highway. if the city grows up around those buildings, it will be worthwhile to maintain or replace them. but if our planners are asleep at the switch (or politically micromanaged into impotence) then even after all this development, north walnut will still be a hellscape, and they’ll eventually be torn down without a second thought.

      iow, it’s the cars that ruin this neighborhood. not the buildings.

      1. RE: “structural engineering is very advanced these days…they often have support columns going dozens of feet into the ground. the weight is effectively borne by underground formations which are much deeper than the contour of the hill. they’re not shy about moving tremendous amounts of dirt to re-shape the hill, either!”

        Two things:
        What does the city currently require in terms of depth of support columns for buildings and how is that determined – size, weight or something else of the building?

        Note that buildings built on fill (dirt moved to reshape the hill) are even more at risk of structural failure as the fill compacts over the years.

      1. If it complies with the UDO, then perhaps it is time to consider what amendments are necessary to make the UDO a stronger set of standards for the quality of housing. Just saying…

  6. With the Denny’s site ready for a new development, I wonder if the next door Marathon’s days are numbered. I suppose it would be a pain in the neck to get the site cleaned for a new development though.

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