Bloomington OKs zoning requirement for Beacon’s new shelter, supportive housing facility on 3rd Street

Sometime in late 2024 or possibly into 2025, Beacon, Inc. plans to start construction of a new facility across from Rose Hill Cemetery on 3rd Street.

The 45,000-square-foot two-story building, which will include a day shelter, a 50-bed overnight shelter, 20 one-bedroom apartments, and 5 work-to-live units for on-site staff, will be made legally possible by a conditional use approval for “supportive housing” that was granted by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA) at its Thursday night meeting.

The vote by BZA members on the conditional use petition was 4–0.

Beacon, which serves Bloomington’s houseless population, now operates a day shelter, the Shalom Center, which is on Walnut Street, south of Seminary Park. Beacon also operates an overnight shelter called Friends Place, at 919 S. Rogers Street, which is south of Dodds Street.

The concept for the new project is to co-locate Beacon’s existing day shelter and overnight shelter, which will be located on the first floor of the new two-story building. The first floor is planned to include a commercial kitchen, bathrooms, showers, laundry, and a mailroom.

The new program of supportive housing units will occupy the second floor of the new building. The second floor will include 20 one-bedroom apartments for supportive housing and another five apartments for staff, who will be able to live there as part of their compensation for working at the facility.

The land purchase and a big part of the construction will be covered with a $7 million grant that Beacon received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

But the timing of the construction start will depend somewhat on the success of a capital campaign, which the nonprofit hopes will generate between $3 million and $5 million, according to Beacon’s executive director, Forrest Gilmore.

The conditional use approval proved to be uncontroversial for BZA members. Around 20 people spoke from the public mic, either in person or on the Zoom interface, all but two strongly in favor.

Gilmore was not subjected to questions from BZA members. But Tim Ballard did say he wanted to see the concerns that had been expressed by some residents of the neighborhood continue to be addressed as the project moves forward. Ballard added that ongoing attention to issues that had been raised is “a really crucial element to this whole thing.”

Speaking against the choice of location were a married couple, Lindsey and Daniel Muller who are residents of the Prospect Hill neighborhood. Lindsey Muller described the kind of activity she had witnessed in Building Trades Park, just north of 2nd Street—it’s about a half mile southeast of the planned new Beacon facility.

Lindsey Muller said she supports Beacon’s vision, but she’s not in favor of the location. “Specifically, as a resident that previously lived across the street from the Building Trades Park, I saw a lot of drug deals, violence, people sharpening machetes on playground slides, and public nudity,” she said.

Daniel Muller said that he is worried that Building Trades Park to the southwest, and Rose Hill Cemetery, right across the street from the planned new building, would essentially wind up serving the same function that Seminary Park does now, due to its close proximity to the Beacon’s Shalom Center day shelter. Seminary Park is a place where many who use Beacon’s services spend their time during the day.

The land where the nonprofit wants to build the project is currently zoned for mixed-use medium scale (MM). In the MM zoning district, a use called “supportive housing” is allowed, but only as a conditional use. The conditional use process entails submitting the proposal to the BZA, which is supposed to evaluate the proposal based on criteria spelled out in the UDO. That’s why Beacon was in front of the BZA on Thursday night.

In broad strokes, the conditional use criteria include: (1) consistency with the city’s comprehensive plan; (2) provision of adequate public services and facilities; and (3) minimization or mitigation of adverse impacts.

When Gilmore took the mic to respond to some of the public comment, some of his remarks could be analyzed as trying to address the third conditional use criterion.

Gilmore said that some of the foot traffic through the 3rd Street neighborhood would be reduced when the new facility is opened. That’s because there’s some traffic that arises from movement between the Shalom Center on Walnut Street through the neighborhood to the Wheeler Mission shelter, which is located northwest of Beacon’s planned new building.

When the new facility opens that same movement, between Beacon’s facility and Wheeler Mission, will not go through the neighborhood.

Gilmore also noted that compared to the existing Shalom Center, the planned new building is farther from Building Trades Park.

Gilmore described some of the features of the planned new facility that are meant to mitigate its impact. The building will open to the west, he said, so that traffic will be directed more towards the west as opposed to the east, where the neighborhood lies.

The front entry is designed so that people cannot get onto the property without going through the front door, Gilmore said. That front door entry design would help address challenges that Beacon sees at the Shalom Center, Gilmore said, “where people hang around and hover around the site.”

The outdoor space in the back would be landscaped, Gilmore said, so it might mimic the effect of a park, making it an attractive alternative to either the cemetery or Building Trades Park.

Several who spoke on Thursday in favor of the proposal were Beacon staff, like development director Amy Kendall. She told the story of Robert, who was working at Denny’s when it closed without notice, and wound up having to move, with his son, into their truck, where they lived from February to April. He arrived at the Shalom Center in April, but by June, was back in an apartment through Beacon’s rapid rehousing program, Kendall said.

Other who spoke in support work in the same nonprofit sector as Beacon—like Emily Pike, who is executive director of New Hope for Families. “One of the things that I know is that we desperately need housing in our community.” Pike said. She continued, “And in particular, we need it for our lowest-income community members. We know that housing is the thing that does make a difference in terms of having fewer people outdoors.”

Housing reduces arrests and emergency room visits, Pike said, which means it’s a more cost efficient way, and a more humane way to help people.” She added, “And Beacon does all of those things.”

Design work on the project is being done by SpringPoint Architects, which has a team that includes Barre Klapper, who serves on the five-member BZA, along with Tim Ballard, Flavia Burrell, Nikki Farrell, and Jo Throckmorton.

The conflict of interest precluded Klapper’s participation in the deliberations or vote on Beacon’s proposal. That meant the BZA was reduced from five to four people for Thursday night.

Nikki Farrell was not able to attend, but her alternate, Erica Walker, filled in.

[Note:The reporter is married to Mary Morgan, director of Heading Home of South Central Indiana, who spoke in favor of Beacon’s project at Thursday’s BZA meeting.]


Photos: Bloomington BZA (Oct. 19, 2203)

8 thoughts on “Bloomington OKs zoning requirement for Beacon’s new shelter, supportive housing facility on 3rd Street

  1. “The outdoor space in the back would be landscaped, Gilmore said, so it might mimic the effect of a park, making it an attractive alternative to either the cemetery or Building Trades Park.”

    The proximity to the Wheeler Mission does bode well for Seminary Square and Building Trades Parks. But overnight camp sites in Rose Hill have already been seen. Can’t see how this new facility, however designed and however attractive the landscaping, will not have an effect on Rose Hill.

    Just saying, not demonizing. Homelessness is a complex problem and most relevant levers of power required for a solution are beyond the scope of local government. This may be the best approach for Beacon.

  2. Two corrections: “Daniel Miller” should be “Daniel Muller.” And “Gilmore was not subjected to questions from BZA members.” – I recall Forrest fielding one question from Tim Ballard on how long the Neighborhood Advisory Committee was going to continue.

  3. Compassion is Great. Is there more?

    Would compassion please step forward and state your name? “We will swear you in. Is the testimony you are about to give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” One by one they came to the podium. It was the city’s Zoning Appeals Board. Eloquent supporters of a new, relocated homeless shelter they were. It would offer services for the thousands living at the ragged end of poverty. Beacon, Inc. (Shalom Community Center), is a frontline community service agency responding to homelessness, hunger, health issues, addiction and more.

    One by one they came in supporting a larger and better shelter: more beds, food service, health care, employment assistance and more. Supporters cited statistics. Staff offered early architectural plans, reported on meetings with neighborhood residents and shared stories and poems written by persons living-on-the-streets.

    Only one couple spoke in opposition They lived nearby and shared concerns about potential dangers and possible loss of property value. Clearly the folks at Beacon, especially the center’s director, the Rev. Forrest Gilmore, were prepared. Gilmore had previously met with the couple who were opposed. He spoke of his commitment to continue to be in communication with them and others in the neighborhood. They were appreciative.

    It was an impressive thing to see, this well planned and open-hearted expression of compassion. Well done, Beacon! There are still more plans to be made and many dollars to be raised. Even so, this is a BIG STEP in the right direction that might open as soon as 2025.

    Compassion stepped forward. Still, I left aware many voices were missing-in-action.

    Where was the faith community? Yes, Rev. Gilmore is an ordained Unitarian pastor; but, apart from him, there were no other faith representatives speaking. Is this not a concern in our congregations? I might have said a word. After all, Beacon’s earliest manifestation began in the 1990s when I was pastor at First United Methodist Church. A day-center, Shalom, started in the fellowship hall. It grew and improved in outreach. It is a gift to see what has developed over these decades. Even so, there was a hollowness in my chest as I wondered about the absence of other voices of faith today.

    Where were the voices of those who struggle with homelessness now? Like so much that goes on in our liberal social service worlds, the truly poor are too often turned into voiceless objects. Recently I asked leaders working on homelessness in our community how those who are currently on the streets, or who have recently found a residence, were given voice in meetings and in planning? I was told it was “difficult to do” and “being worked on.” Okay. I have asked leaders at the hospitals a similar question. Our institutions are better designed to fix someone than to listen to them or know them. The good folks at Beacon listen and respond; they seek to include. Others, many of us, who “care” seem to take the “it’s not my job” approach when it comes to listening to and knowing those who are “being helped.”

    Where were the university representatives? Some national experts on homelessness teach in our nationally ranked business and public policy schools. And what of the administration and student leaders? Will they swear to “tell the truth and the whole truth” regarding homelessness in our city? As in many college towns, our real-estate market is overwhelmed, and rents are soaring. Multiple new apartments and condos are occupied by persons who do not work here. The university has backed away from offering more residential space, in large measure because students are wealthier than in the past. They now expect more than a dormitory room. Can the university’s mission be wide enough to teach about justice and good citizenship even while in school? Apartment complexes have mushroomed with rents well beyond what many low-income and even working-class folks can afford. Does the university care about this consequence of their decisions?

    Where were the leaders in the current city administration? Where was the mayor or his representative? We have watched as plans and promises for workforce and low-income housing languish and are often placed on the back burner. Meanwhile, out-of-town developers build quickly, take their profits, and have little else to do with this community. Thankfully the likely new mayor has made housing for each, and all, a top priority. She speaks of building coalitions with vision for a more welcoming and just city.

    Perhaps we ALL should have been sworn in and asked to speak “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I left the meeting wondering if there will be a demand for a larger facility twenty-five years from now. Or might we move toward new ways of thinking and acting. As we build this new homeless facility, might we explore more comprehensive and collaborative ways of being a community and welcomes, listens to and values all?

    Compassion is a fine attribute and friend. However, this community is going to need more. In the short term, there is the need for financial support so that the new Beacon facility and its programming can become a reality as soon as possible.

    Compassion is a good thing. Might the time arrive when we ask the sister of compassion, named “justice,” to come forward and testify on all our behalf?

  4. I have to agree with the Miller’s in that Rose Hill Cemetery needs to be protected from any and all camping. It is not a park for hanging out, it’s a cemetery. I hope the city and Beacon/Shalom figure out how to protect the cemetery before it becomes and issue.

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