3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton (right) addresses the Bloomington city council on June 15, 2022.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council took a couple of steps, on 8–1 votes, as a part of a potential deal to get high-speed internet connections built for most of the city.

The pending agreement would be inked between Paris-based Meridiam and Bloomington.

Under the arrangement, Meridiam would construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service. Meridiam would offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

The arrangement would add another competitor to Bloomington’s market by giving an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP) exclusive access to the new network for at least five years. The initial ISP would also have exclusive access to the roughly 17 miles of conduit and fiber—the Bloomington Digital Underground—which has already been constructed by the city.

The agreement has been analyzed by the Indiana Cable & Broadband Association as “unfairly favoring one provider over others,”  which ICBA says conflicts with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. ICBA’s legal objections got no mention during deliberations by Bloomington public officials this week.

Wednesday was the third day in a row that three different public bodies took required steps for the deal to go through. All of the votes were unanimous except for those by the city council. Continue reading “3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam”

Council defers to Johnson’s Creamery owner wish, delays alley vacation vote until after own vacation

At its Wednesday meeting this week, Bloomington’s city council was expected to vote on a request from Peerless Development to vacate an east-west alley on the Johnson’s Creamery building property off 7th Street.

A future housing development, based on its current design, depends on the vacation of the alley.

But the council voted to postpone its vote until July 20, which is the next scheduled regular city council meeting. The month-long gap in meetings reflects the council’s “summer recess”—its own seasonal vacation—on its annual schedule.

Vacating an alley means ceding to private ownership some land that is now public right-of-way.

It is the second time the council has postponed a vote on the question—the first occasion was on June 1.  Both times, the request to postpone came at the request of Peerless.

Peerless wants additional time to explore its options with its title company and with the engineering firm that did a study of the 140-foot historic smokestack located in the middle of the alley. Continue reading “Council defers to Johnson’s Creamery owner wish, delays alley vacation vote until after own vacation”

2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run

Early Thursday morning, Andrew Guenther filed the paperwork required to create an exploratory committee for a Bloomington city council run in 2023.

Photo included with Guenther’s news release.

Guenther will be starting law school at Indiana University this fall. He holds an undergraduate degree from IU in public affairs, and is currently working on a masters degree.

Guenther is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. He has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.

In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Compared to 2019, two things are different about a potential run next year. First, Guenther is considering a run as an independent candidate, unaffiliated with any political party. Guenther announced on Jan. 2, 2021 that he was no longer a member of the Republican Party.

A second difference is that Guenther would be a candidate for an at-large seat on the council.

The three at-large seats are elected citywide, which means candidate eligibility is based just on city residency. That removes from the equation any uncertainty related to the outcome of this year’s redistricting process—which will likely see some changes to the boundaries of the six council districts.

The current at-large councilmembers are: Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, and Matt Flaherty. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run”

Bank building on Kirkwood designated as notable historic structure by Bloomington city council

Any future modifications of the People’s Bank building at the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Bloomington will need approval from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission.

On an 8–0 vote, Bloomington’s city council approved the building as a “notable” historic structure in its own historic district. That’s a designation that is higher than “contributing” but not as high as “outstanding” in the four-tiered rating system for historic buildings.

The council’s vote followed the unanimous recommendation of the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC).

The owner of the building, ​​Bailey 8 LLC, had requested demolition of the building, to construct a three- or four-story building that would include apartments. That meant the HPC reviewed the structure under the city’s ordinance on demolition delay. Continue reading “Bank building on Kirkwood designated as notable historic structure by Bloomington city council”

Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC

On Tuesday, Bloomington’s economic development commission (EDC) helped a potential deal between Paris-based Meridiam and the city of Bloomington take another step forward.

Under the arrangement, Meridiam would construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service. Meridiam would offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

On a 4–0 vote, the EDC approved a resolution that among other things green-lighted an  expenditure agreement that reimburses to Meridiam 95 percent of the roughly $10.9 million in personal property taxes that Meridiam will pay over a 20-year period.

The personal property taxes would be paid on the company’s conduit and fiber. The mechanism the city is using to reimburse Meridiam’s taxes is a tax increment finance (TIF) allocation area, not a tax abatement, even if the effect is basically the same.

The TIF area is exactly the physical space where the conduit and fiber is installed, which has an appearance that some have characterized as web-like. That’s what gives rise to the moniker “spider TIF.”

For Tuesday’s decision, the five-member EDC was missing Matt Flaherty. He is the city council’s representative on the EDC. But Flaherty will have a say when the city council considers two related questions on Wednesday.

That’s because a third step for the high-speed internet deal is teed up for Bloomington’s city council at its Wednesday meeting. Continue reading “Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC”

One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission

Bloomington plan commission (June 13, 2022)

A deal between a Paris-based infrastructure company and the city of Bloomington, to construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, took a step forward Monday evening.

On a unanimous vote, the city’s plan commission found that an already-approved redevelopment commission (RDC) resolution and its associated economic development plan—on which the Bloomington-Meridiam fiber deal depends—is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

That’s the first of three approvals the city’s administration is hoping to get this week for a tax increment finance (TIF) arrangement, that would see about $10.9 million in personal property taxes reimbursed to Meridiam over a 20-year period. That’s down from the estimated $14.4 million that had been previously negotiated for a 25-year period.

Next up will be an approval from the (economic development commission (EDC)), which the city administration is hoping to get at the EDC’s 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

That could be followed by an approval at this Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Last week, the city’s RDC took the first step towards all the approvals necessary when it passed the required declaratory resolution.

On Monday, the administration’s case for conformity with the city’s comprehensive plan was presented to the plan commission by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. Continue reading “One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission”

Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days

Now pending is a deal between the city of Bloomington and Meridiam, a Paris-based infrastructure company, that would build a fiber-to-the-home network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, reaching at least 85-percent of the city.

The image links to a dynamic map. (UG = underground; AE = aerial)

The city describes the deal in terms of a $50 million investment that Meridiam will make. Meridiam has made the arrangement contingent on a kind of “tax rebate” for the company, amounting to $14.4 million over 20 years.

Meridiam says the creation of the wholesale open-access network—after an initial 5-7 year period of exclusive operation by an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP)—would create about 10 new jobs, with a payroll of about $1.1 million.

Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) got the legal process started last week, when it voted 4-0 to approve a declaratory resolution.

For the deal to go through, three different public bodies will need to give approvals, at three separate meetings, which are set for Monday (plan commission), Tuesday (economic development commission), and Wednesday (city council) of this week.

The final vote, by the RDC, is set for July 5. Continue reading “Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days”

Downtown Bloomington march for stronger gun laws: “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.”

On Saturday afternoon, about 150 people were gathered on the southeast lawn of the Monroe County courthouse in downtown Bloomington. They stood in silence for 21 seconds.

The silence commemorated the lives of 21 children and teachers who were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, two weeks earlier.

The reflective moment was part of a demonstration and march that was organized by Bloomington North High School students Ingrid Pendergast and Alexandra Shirley, under the banner of the national movement called March for Our Lives. The non-profit organization advocates for stronger gun laws.

Demonstrators on Saturday marched from the southeast corner of the courthouse square, eastward down Kirkwood Avenue to Indiana Avenue, headed one block north to 6th Street, turned west, and headed back to the courthouse along 6th Street.

After demonstrators had again gathered on the courthouse lawn, Pendergast and Shirley gave remarks and invited several people to address the crowd. Then they turned the mic over to anyone who wanted to speak.

Pendergast told the crowd, “We can no longer allow gun violence to be a partisan issue. It is killing us. It is not about Republican versus Democrat.” She added, “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.” Continue reading “Downtown Bloomington march for stronger gun laws: “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.””

Latest filing in Bloomington annexation case: Remonstrators ask for more time due to ”pestilence”

In a June 6 court filing, remonstrators in Bloomington annexation Area 1A and Area 1B have argued for additional time to collect remonstrance signatures against the city council’s annexation ordinances, which were approved in September 2021.

The remonstrators’ basic argument stems from the fact that the COIVD-19 pandemic had caused Indiana governor Eric Holcomb to issue an emergency health order, which covered the time for signature collection.

The original 90-day window for remonstrance closed on Jan. 6 of this year (2022).

Area 1A is just west of Bloomington. Area 1B lies to the southwest.

The June 6 court papers include a response to the city of Bloomington’s previous motion  on the same topic. Bloomington asked the court to disallow any extension of time to collect more signatures.

The lawsuit involving Area 1A and Area 1B is separate from the lawsuits initiated by Bloomington, one for each annexation area, filed against various parties, based in part on the idea that many of the remonstrance signatures come from property owners who had previously waived their right to remonstrate.

In Area 1A and Area 1B, property owners in each area separately achieved remonstrance signatures from more than 50 percent of property owners, but less than 65 percent, according to the county auditor’s certified results. If signatures from 65 percent of property owners had been collected, that would have meant an automatic stop to Bloomington’s annexations of the two areas, without review by a court. But achieving 50 percent meant that Bloomington’s annexation ordinances for those areas were able to get a review by a court.

The idea of an extension for more time to collect signatures is not new—it was a part of the original complaint filed by remonstrators in mid-March.

But now, the arguments on either side for and against an extension are starting to get fleshed out. A hearing is currently set for July 29 in front of judge Nathan Nikirk. Continue reading “Latest filing in Bloomington annexation case: Remonstrators ask for more time due to ”pestilence””

Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners

An encampment on county-owned land west of Bloomington has prompted action by the Monroe County board of commissioners two Wednesdays in a row.

Last week, commissioners added to their agenda a contract with Bio-One, which is an Indianapolis-based company specializing in “extreme cleaning.”

The $3,500-per-day contract  covered clearing out the trash and debris that was expected to be left behind, after the sheriff’s office enforced an order to vacate the encampment, which was located behind the At Home store, just west of I-69.

But the cleanup that started last Thursday, the day after Bio-One’s contract was approved, turned out to require more work than expected.

So at this Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to extend Bio-One’s contract another 15 days for a total of 20 days, which could cost as much as $70,000.

In other related action this Wednesday, commissioners invoked a state statute to declare an emergency—in order to speed up the process for hiring a contractor to clear trees under 12 inches in diameter, undergrowth and underbrush on the property.  The idea is to improve lines of sight into the property, to monitor for future  encampments.

Under IC 5-16-1-1.6, commissioners don’t need to advertise for bids, but do have to invite quotes from at least three firms. Administrator for the commissioners, Angie Purdie, is authorized in the emergency declaration, to execute the lowest quote that is received by Thursday at 9 a.m. Continue reading “Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners”