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)