Johnson’s smokestack: Owner’s alley request seen as chance to “leverage” historic tribute

The Johnson’s Creamery smokestack will soon be back in the civic spotlight—for two reasons.

First, at its meeting this Tuesday,  Bloomington’s three-member board of public works will be asked to affirm an order from the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department,  which requires AT&T to remove its communications equipment from the top of the smokestack by midnight on May 31.

The removal of AT&T’s equipment will help set the stage for the owner’s partial demolition of the smokestack—from 140 feet down to 60 feet. The building, with its smokestack, is owned by Peerless Development.

The partial demolition was ordered by HAND because an engineering study determined the smokestack is unsafe.

Second, Peerless Development will be asking the city council to vacate an east-west alley that cuts across the parcel.

The alley vacation is needed in order for Peerless to move ahead with a development on the northern part of the parcel. The housing development is supposed to include 60 apartments with a total of 74 bedrooms, right next to the B-Line Trail. Bloomington’s plan commission approved the site plan for the new development in October 2021.

The request for an alley vacation will likely land on the city council’s May 18 agenda as a first reading, and possibly get final action at the council’s regular meeting on June 1.

Vacating a public-right-of-way means that the city is ceding to a private entity the public’s claim to the land.

In connection with the requested alley vacation, Bloomington’s city council could be looking to extract a concession from Peerless to construct some kind of creative artwork to commemorate the lost height of the smokestack. That’s based on the discussion at the city council’s work session held last Friday.

The idea of a commemorative artwork is not new. Continue reading “Johnson’s smokestack: Owner’s alley request seen as chance to “leverage” historic tribute”

Bloomington city council enacts 0.69-point tax increase for Monroe County residents on 9–0 vote

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton did not get the full 0.855-point local income tax (LIT) increase he had asked Bloomington’s city council to approve.

But the council did approve a 0.69-point increase, which will generate around $14.5 million annually in new revenue for the city of Bloomington. The additional 0.69 points brings the countywide income tax rate to 2.035 percent.

The new rate will take effect on Oct. 1.

Based on the category of income tax used for the increase (economic development) and the method used for distribution (population-based), the additional 0.69 points will also mean additional annual revenue of around $10 million for Monroe County, around $1 million for Ellettsville, and around $40,000 for Stinesville.

Those are the only four units of government that receive a distribution under the economic development category of local income tax.

The original proposal from Hamilton would have generated about $18 million in annual revenue for Bloomington. The intended expenditures fall into four categories: climate change preparedness and mitigation; essential city services; public safety; and quality of life. Continue reading “Bloomington city council enacts 0.69-point tax increase for Monroe County residents on 9–0 vote”

Local income tax increase: Decision delayed by Bloomington city council to May 4

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council voted 8–0 to postpone consideration of a countywide local income tax increase until its next regular meeting, which is scheduled for May 4.

The vote to postpone came a few minutes after 9 p.m. That made for a meeting that lasted about two and a half hours. Councilmembers asked questions of the mayor and staff, heard another round of public commentary, and discussed the proposal among themselves.

It’s the city council’s second postponement of the LIT rate increase in as many weeks. The likely delay in the vote this week was announced by council president Susan Sandberg at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. Continue reading “Local income tax increase: Decision delayed by Bloomington city council to May 4”

Electronic meetings statute stops vote on $5.8M bond issuance by Bloomington parks board

The final approval of $5.8-million in general obligation bonds appeared on Tuesday’s agenda for Bloomington’s board of park commissioners.

view of city council chambers with two park commissioners seated at dais with numeral "1" and "2" labeling them and a third park commission appearing on screen.
Tues. April 26, 2022 meeting of Bloomington’s board of park commissioners. Two were present in-person. One was present on the Zoom platform.

It did not get a vote, because only two of the four park commissioners were attending the meeting in person.

A special meeting will be scheduled so that a vote can be taken.

A third commissioner attended Tuesday’s meeting by using the Zoom video-conferencing platform—which allowed the board to achieve its quorum of three members to transact other items on its agenda.

Under Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL), an attendee who participates by electronic communication counts towards satisfying a quorum.

And under ordinary circumstances a remote attendee’s votes count towards whatever majority is needed for a particular item to be approved.

But under the ODL, there are some circumstances that preclude a member’s participation in a meeting using electronic communication. Among them are meetings when the governing body is taking final action to “establish, raise, or renew a tax.”

Issuing general obligation bonds has the impact of raising property taxes. Continue reading “Electronic meetings statute stops vote on $5.8M bond issuance by Bloomington parks board”

Local income tax increase postponed by Bloomington city council until April 27, but $11.6M in bonds OK’d

Bloomington’s city council has postponed its decision on an increase to Monroe County’s local income tax (LIT) rate.

On Wednesday, the vote on the motion to postpone was 8–1 with Steve Volan dissenting. The council will take up the matter again a week from Wednesday, at a special session on April 27.

Volan’s vote against postponement was not based on a desire to take a final vote on the LIT increase that night. Volan wanted some additional deliberation by the council on the question before postponement. The vote to postpone was taken at 10:52 p.m. almost four and a half hours after the meeting started, at 6:30 p.m.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton has asked the council to consider an increase of 0.855 points, bringing Monroe County’s total rate to 2.2 percent.

If the city council approves the LIT rate increase by a vote of at least 8–1, that will increase the tax for all residents of Monroe County. If the approval gets fewer than eight votes of support, then the proposal would need to pick up some support from the county council and/or the Ellettsville town board.

Even though councilmembers did not take a vote on the LIT increase, they did approve the issuances of two $5.8 million general obligation bonds—one for a set of public works projects and the other for a set of parks projects. The board of park commissioners is set to take a final vote on the parks bonds on April 26. Continue reading “Local income tax increase postponed by Bloomington city council until April 27, but $11.6M in bonds OK’d”

Wednesday’s city council committee meeting could mark the start of local income tax negotiations

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposal to increase the countywide local income tax (LIT) by 0.855 points, to a total of 2.2 percent, appears on the agenda for the city council’s Wednesday night committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Other revenue items on the agenda include two $5-million bond proposals—one for parks bonds and the other for public works bonds. [Updated at 4:34 on April 13, 2022: Two amendments to the list of projects to be funded by the bonds were posted by the city council office. Here’s a  link: 2022-04-13 meeting packet addendum.]

Also on Wednesday’s agenda is a nominal decrease to the drinking water rate, driven by the General Assembly’s repeal of the 1.4-percent utility receipts tax. It was ​​a pass-through tax, which means it was collected by utilities and forwarded to the state. For the residential rate, the decrease is 5 cents—from $4.03 to $3.98 per 1,000 gallons. That works out to 1.2 percent less.

No final votes will be taken on Wednesday night at the committee meeting. But it is the city council’s custom to take straw polls. That should give some indication of how councilmembers are leaning toward the proposed income tax increase. Abstentions are generally used as a mechanism to show moderate disapproval.

A final vote on a local income tax (LIT) increase by the city council could be taken as soon as next Wednesday (April 20). Continue reading “Wednesday’s city council committee meeting could mark the start of local income tax negotiations”

Johnson’s Creamery building, 60 feet of smokestack get historic protection from Bloomington city council

The 140-foot Johnson’s Creamery smokestack will get demolished down to just 60 feet sometime in the next few weeks.

But it won’t get chopped down any shorter than that, because Bloomington’s city council has now enacted a historic district for the building, including its smokestack.

The Johnson’s Creamery is located on 7th Street just west of the B-Line Trail. The trail is temporarily closed where it runs past the smokestack out of a concern for public safety—because the smokestack is leaning and has been determined to be unsafe.

The council’s action came on a 9–0 vote at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

At its meeting last week. Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) went ahead and issued a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of the smokestack down to 60 feet. The HPC’s action anticipated the council would establish a historic district for the building.

If the council had not enacted a historic district that included the smokestack, it could have been completely demolished. Continue reading “Johnson’s Creamery building, 60 feet of smokestack get historic protection from Bloomington city council”

HPC says Johnson’s smokestack OK to be chopped to 60 feet, Bloomington city council next to weigh in

On Thursday, Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for the demolition of the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack down to 60 feet.

No conditions are attached to the COA. The commission weighed the idea of requiring the owner to propose a way to commemorate the history of the building through an artwork. But in the end that was not a part of the COA.

Thursday’s vote put back on the books the action taken by HPC last week, but which it rescinded at the same meeting, amid confusion about the substance of the vote.

The city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department has issued an order to the owner, Peerless Development, to demolish the smokestack down to 60 feet, based on a report recently completed by Arsee Engineers.

The engineering report concluded that the structure cannot be restored at its full height and still meet modern building codes. Any masonry smokestack would be susceptible to wind and seismic loads that would preclude restoration at that height, the report said.

Thursday’s action is meant to preserve as much of the 140-foot smokestack as possible. Continue reading “HPC says Johnson’s smokestack OK to be chopped to 60 feet, Bloomington city council next to weigh in”

Future of Johnson’s Creamery smokestack height to be decided by historic preservation commission, Bloomington city council

As soon as this Thursday (March 24), the future of the iconic Johnson’s Creamery smokestack, just across the B-Line Trail west of city hall, could be settled.

That’s when Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) is scheduled to meet and act on a request from the owner of the Johnson’s Creamery building to reduce the height of the smokestack from 140 to 60 feet, and to stabilize the remaining, shorter smokestack.

The leaning and deteriorating smokestack is the subject of an unsafe building order issued by the city of Bloomington in late December 2021. The city’s housing and neighborhood development department (HAND) ordered the smokestack repaired within 60 days.

[Added at 9:35 a.m. on March 23: A current order that was issued by HAND on March 11 says the owner has to demolish the smokestack down to a height of 60 feet.]

But on Thursday, the HPCs granting of a certificate of appropriateness for partial demolition is not guaranteed. And it would require some coordination with potential city council action on Wednesday.

Before the request for a “certificate of appropriateness” can be granted by the HPC, Bloomington’s city council would need to establish the legal framework for the issuance of such a certificate. That framework would come in the form of a one-building local historic district.

That’s why an ordinance to establish the Johnson’s Creamery Historic District is on the city council’s Wednesday (March 23) agenda. Ordinarily, the enactment of any ordinance requires two separate readings, not on the same day or the same meeting. But if there is unanimous consent among councilmembers, an ordinance can be enacted at the same meeting when it is introduced. Continue reading “Future of Johnson’s Creamery smokestack height to be decided by historic preservation commission, Bloomington city council”

Opinion | Dereliction of duty: When Bloomington city councilmembers abstain on $30-million votes

On Wednesday night, Kate Rosenbarger and Steve Volan abstained on the vote granting a $30-million tax abatement for Catalent—but not because they had some financial conflict or even an appearance of one.

The resolution passed with six votes in favor, one more than the five-vote majority it needed.

Rosenbarger was in a quandary—she doesn’t believe in tax abatements generally, but said it was “silly” for Catalent not to pursue the abatement. What was her way out of the dilemma? To abstain.

Volan also said he found the concept of tax abatements problematic, and complained that Catalent was not willing to make some additional commitments—for example, allowing a developer to build housing on Catalent land.

Volan could not vote yes, but wanted to make a “show of good faith to Catalent.” What was his show of good faith? To abstain.

For anyone who likes to do math, it’s puzzling why an abstention would count as a show of good faith. An abstention contributes the same as a no vote towards reaching the required five-vote majority: Zero. There’s no extra negative arithmetical weight attached to a no vote. Continue reading “Opinion | Dereliction of duty: When Bloomington city councilmembers abstain on $30-million votes”