Bloomington gives $500 fine after activist writes “VOTE” on street, cites code on defacing property

Area resident Thomas Westgård has been fined $500 by Bloomington after writing “VOTE” on a city street.

Westgård sent The B Square a photo of the letter that he reported receiving from the city on Friday.

The letter, signed by Bloomington public works director Adam Wason, states: “On January 4, 2023, at the intersection of Madison and 7th Street in Bloomington, you spray-painted the word ‘VOTE’ in the street.”

The letter continues: “In accordance with BMC Section 1.01.130, you are being assessed a fine of $500 for the violation.” Continue reading “Bloomington gives $500 fine after activist writes “VOTE” on street, cites code on defacing property”

Bloomington answers request for mural under new court-ordered art policy: No, but we have questions

The city of Bloomington has now responded to an application submitted in December by Indiana University student Brian Reynolds for the installation of a mural on Kirkwood Avenue that says “All Lives Matter.”

Excerpt from the traffic management proposal in connection with the application that has been submitted by Brian Reynolds for his proposed “All Lives Matter” mural.

In its response, the city has told Reynolds that such a mural, with words and letters, is not allowed as permanent art under the city’s newly adopted policy on the installation of private art in the public right-of-way.

Based on the city’s response, and the litigation backdropping the request, if Reynolds is eventually allowed to install his mural, it looks somewhat unlikely that it would be on the requested date of April 3, 2023.

It was under a court order that the city’s new policy on private art in the public right-of-way was developed.

That order came in connection with a lawsuit that Reynolds filed, after being denied permission to paint a mural in 2021.  The court found that the city’s refusal in 2021 to allow Reynolds to paint his mural likely amounted to viewpoint discrimination, and issued a preliminary injunction.

Bloomington’s policy was adopted by the board of public works at its Dec. 20, 2023 meeting.

Reynolds’ proposed mural is not allowed as a permanent mural, because it contains “speech,” which is defined under the policy as “words, letters, numbers, or universally recognized symbols, or logos of any kind.” Continue reading “Bloomington answers request for mural under new court-ordered art policy: No, but we have questions”

Activist tests right to write “vote” on Bloomington street, protests policy on art in public right-of-way

Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Bloomington area resident Thomas Westgård started dolloping a purple compound onto the asphalt at 7th and Madison streets near Monroe County’s Election Central.

After a few minutes, the word “vote” was spelled out in purple on the pavement.

It was a coincidence that Wednesday was also the first day when candidates in Bloomington’s city elections could file their official paperwork.

For Westgård, it was the right time and day to write “vote” on the street, because a status conference was on a federal court calendar for about an hour later, for a case that involves the right of private individuals to install art in Bloomington’s public right-of-way.

In November 2022, the judge issued a preliminary injunction against Bloomington, ordering the city to establish criteria for applications by private individuals to install art in the public right of way.

The deadline for the city to set the policy was Jan. 2. Bloomington’s board of public works adopted the policy at its final meeting last year, on Dec. 20, 2022. Continue reading “Activist tests right to write “vote” on Bloomington street, protests policy on art in public right-of-way”

Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works denied an appeal by a resident for a noise violation ticket.

This scan is from a revised information packet provided to the Bloomington board of public works for its Jan. 3, 2022 meeting. (1) The social security number of the ticketed person was removed only after initial publication of the packet. (2) The fine amount was a part of the scan in the initial packet, but was added after the ticket was issued—which is standard practice.

That’s par for the course when a noise ordinance violation is appealed to the board—in part because the local law establishes a low and clear bar for what qualifies as an unreasonable noise.

Between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. any sound that is audible for a person with normal hearing, who is outside the premises where the sound is originating, counts as a violation.

The case heard on Tuesday included a couple of wrinkles. One was the delay between the issuance of the ticket and its appeal. The ticket was issued just after midnight on Aug. 21, 2022.

The three-month delay got some questions from board members at their work session, which was held an hour and a half before the regular meeting.

The other wrinkle did not get any board discussion: Included in the initial publication of the board’s meeting information packet was an image scan of the ticket, which featured the violator’s social security number (SSN).

Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act prohibits a public agency from releasing a SSN, unless it’s specifically required by a state or federal statute .

In a subsequent version of the meeting information packet, the social security number had been scrubbed from the image, not redacted with a more typical black box.

The citation was for excessive noise on Aug. 21 last year, in connection with a party in the 1300 block of North Washington Street. Continue reading “Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington”

Bloomington OKs policy on private art installed in public right-of-way: No speech for permanent art

Under the policy approved by Bloomington’s board of public works at its Tuesday meeting, no public street mural with words and letters could be installed by private parties—if the mural is expected to last longer than a week.

The action by the board was time sensitive.

A federal judge has ordered that by Jan. 2, 2023, Bloomington must develop and disseminate a policy on private art installations in the public right-of-way.

The court’s order came as a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by an Indiana University student, after Bloomington said he could not install a street mural with the phrase “All Lives Matter.”

The “All Lives Matter” slogan is associated with opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Under the court order, Bloomington has to allow the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Kyle Reynolds and the Indiana University Chapter of Turning Point USA, to apply for installation of a mural under the new policy.

Under the new policy, the previously rejected mural might be allowed, but only if it is “temporary art”—which means it would be expected to last longer than seven days.

The policy’s definition of “temporary art” was extended from five days to seven days, at the suggestion of board member Kyla Cox-Deckard at a Monday noon work session. Continue reading “Bloomington OKs policy on private art installed in public right-of-way: No speech for permanent art”

Analysis: Ban on “speech” for private art in Bloomington public right-of-way

On Bloomington’s board of public works meeting agenda for this coming Tuesday (Dec. 20) is a new policy on installations of private art in the public right-of-way.

The policy would ban “speech”—which is defined under the policy to include letters, words, and other universally recognized symbols—for any private art installation that is expected to remain in place for longer than five days within the public right-of-way.

It was an Indiana University student’s proposed mural, with the words “All Lives Matter,” followed by Bloomington’s rejection of that mural, that led a federal judge to order the city to develop the new policy.

The preliminary injunction against Bloomington says that the city has to develop the policy and allow the student to apply for installation of his mural under the policy.

Would an “All Lives Matter” mural be in or out under the policy? What are the consequences of the policy for other local art installations? Continue reading “Analysis: Ban on “speech” for private art in Bloomington public right-of-way”

Bloomington works to heed court’s order on art, means temporary delay on OK for Freezefest 2023

A special events application to hold the third annual Freezefest downtown in the Trades District area would have normally received a straightforward approval from Bloomington’s three-member board of public works on Tuesday night.

It’s an ice carving festival set to take place along Maker’s Way from Jan. 15 to Jan. 22, and features a chili cook-off at The Mill, a coworking space located in the former dimension mill of the Showers Brothers Furniture Company.

Instead of receiving an approval, the Freezefest application was pulled from the meeting agenda.

The reason Freezefest didn’t get a vote on Tuesday is not related to any controversy related to Freezefest itself. In fact, the festival’s special event application will likely be approved at the board’s next meeting, on Dec. 20.

But for now, Freezefest falls under a moratorium on special events applications, which the board of public works imposed on Tuesday.

The moratorium is related to litigation against the city of Bloomington that arose out of a request to install an “All Lives Matter” street mural on Kirkwood Avenue, in response to the city’s three “Black Lives Matter” street murals. Continue reading “Bloomington works to heed court’s order on art, means temporary delay on OK for Freezefest 2023”

Johnson’s Creamery: No new alley means no swap, but council’s vacation stands, project can proceed

On the list of Bloomington public rights-of-way there is no longer an east-west alley cutting across the former Johnson’s Creamery parcel off 7th Street and The B-Line Trail.

The city council took care of that when it voted 8–1 to grant a request from Peerless Development to vacate the existing alley at that location.  The dissenting vote came from Dave Rollo.

That clears the way for a housing project that Peerless wants to build.

But on Tuesday night, Bloomington’s board of public works denied a request from Peerless to dedicate a new alley, just to the south of the one that had been vacated.

The denial of the new alley dedication does not stand in the way of the plans that Peerless has for development of the parcel with a 51-unit apartment building. The site plan for the building has been approved by the city’s plan commission.

The plan commission’s approval of the building’s site plan was contingent just on the vacation of the alley. The proposed apartment building would have sat partly in the middle of the alley that was vacated on Monday night. Continue reading “Johnson’s Creamery: No new alley means no swap, but council’s vacation stands, project can proceed”

New alley as part of swap at old Johnson’s Creamery likely won’t get city engineer’s support

A potential alley “swap” that would be crucial to construction of about 50 new apartments off 7th Street  is a possibility that Peerless Development is still trying to sort out.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council did not take up its part of the swap, which would be to vacate the existing east-west alley on the old Johnson’s Creamery parcel.

The new apartment building, to be built on the northern part of the parcel, which is now a parking lot, would encroach on the existing alley. That is why the Peerless wants the council to approve a vacation of that public right-of-way.

The reason the council took no action on Wednesday is that by the time the agenda item was reached, the hour had grown late, so the council declined to take up the question of an alley vaction.

That means the alley vacation won’t be considered until the council’s Nov. 16 meeting.

The other piece of the swap—the dedication of a new alley just south of the existing one—won’t be considered until Nov. 22, at a meeting of the board of public works. Continue reading “New alley as part of swap at old Johnson’s Creamery likely won’t get city engineer’s support”

Scooter contract renewal pulled from Bloomington BPW agenda, pending more review

The approval of contract renewal that would allow the Bird scooter company to continue to use the public right of way to do business in Bloomington was pulled from the Tuesday meeting agenda for the board of public works (BPW).

The item is also not expected to appear on the agenda for the very next BPW meeting. But it could appear on the board’s Nov. 22 agenda, possibly along with the contract renewals for the two other companies doing business in Bloomington—Lime and VeoRide.

Under the terms of the scooter contracts, companies pay the city $10,000 year for a license, and 15 cents for each ride their customers take.

The reason the contract was pulled off this week’s agenda was given at Tuesday’s meeting during the staff report from public works director Adam Wason. “After some communications from some city councilmembers and others yesterday about the renewals, city staff in coordination with the mayor’s office and legal decided that we were going to pull this from the agenda at this time while we do some further coordination with both the university and the city council,” Wason said.

Wason added, “Part of that is going to be some evaluation of some data and combined conversation with the university and their team that are working on scooter issues.”

The pushback from councilmembers stems from long-brewing frustration over blockage of ADA ramps and sidewalks by parked scooters, and the city’s apparent decision not to impose fines for the infractions.

That’s after the council was assured at a public meeting in July 2019 by the city attorney that fines would be imposed for any parking violation, if they approved the ordinance allowing scooter companies to operate in Bloomington. Continue reading “Scooter contract renewal pulled from Bloomington BPW agenda, pending more review”