First phase demolition for Hopewell: Bloomington picks Renascent for $589K job

By the end of summer, all but three of the buildings on a central Bloomington block, near the former IU Health hospital site, are set to be demolished.

It’s the area that has been named the Hopewell neighborhood.

On Tuesday evening, Bloomington’s board of public works, as well as the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC), approved the $588,755 contract with Indianapolis-based Renascent, Inc. for the demolition work.

It’s a separate demolition project from the one already underway on the west end of the former IU Health hospital site. IU Health has to demolish all the structures on the main site, except for the parking garage and the Kohr administration building, before transferring ownership to the city of Bloomington.

It’s part of a $6.5-million real estate deal. In early December last year,  IU Health moved to its new facility on the east side of town, on the SR 45/46 bypass.

The focus of the demolition work approved on Tuesday is Phase 1 East in the city’s master plan for redevelopment of the former hospital site.  It’s the block bounded by 1st and 2nd streets on the north and south, and Morton and Rogers on the east and west. The demolition contract approved on Tuesday involves property already under the city’s control. Continue reading “First phase demolition for Hopewell: Bloomington picks Renascent for $589K job”

Bloomington redistricting advisory commission finally appointed, has 12 weeks to complete first task

Nearly 18 months after it was supposed to be seated, a citizens redistricting advisory commission has been appointed by Bloomington’s city council.

99-year-old Liberty silver dollar used for coin flip to determine membership on redistricting advisory commission.

Their task is to recommend to the city council new boundaries for the six city council districts, to even out the population imbalances that might have resulted from the 2020 census.

The five members of the new commission were chosen by the council’s selection committee, which met early Friday morning to determine five two-person candidate pools.

The choice between the two candidates in each pool was made by a coin flip.

Under the ordinance that the city council enacted in late 2020—then amended in early February this year, and again in mid-May—the commission was supposed to be seated by Jan. 1, 2021.

The five-member group has to give the city council a recommendation for a new district map by the first Wednesday in September this year. But there’s nothing in the ordinance that says the recommendation can’t come sooner.

That first deadline is just shy of 12 weeks away. The city council has a regular meeting scheduled for Sept. 7, which is the first Wednesday of the month. That means, at the latest, the city council would have a chance on Sept. 7 to decide the council districts that will be used for the 2023 municipal elections. Continue reading “Bloomington redistricting advisory commission finally appointed, has 12 weeks to complete first task”

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”

Vacation of alleys for hospital site redevelopment gets yes from Bloomington council on second try

At its meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously to vacate parts of two alleys in one of the blocks near the former site of the IU Health hospital.

The request came from the Hamilton administration through the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC).

The block in question is bounded by Morton and Rogers streets on the east and west, and by 2nd and 1st streets on the north and south.

The vacation of alleys approved by the council on Wednesday was the same proposal that had failed on a 4–5 vote in the first week of April.

But the council used an uncommon procedure from Robert’s Rules—called “renewal” of a motion—to consider the question again on Wednesday.

Convincing the council to revisit the question were several concessions made by the administration in connection with the planning for the former hospital site, which has been named the Hopewell neighborhood. Continue reading “Vacation of alleys for hospital site redevelopment gets yes from Bloomington council on second try”

Possible mayoral run for Sandberg: Bloomington city council president forms exploratory committee

On Wednesday (June 1) a little before noon, Democrat Susan Sandberg filed paperwork with Monroe County to form an exploratory committee to run for mayor of the city of Bloomington in 2023.

Bloomington city council president Susan Sandberg at a mid-April 2022 meeting.

That means her campaign can accept financial contributions, but does not require that she eventually declare her candidacy for mayor. Candidates for city council, mayor, and clerk can’t file a formal declaration until early January 2023.

Sandberg currently serves as president of the city council, a post to which she was elected at the start of the year. The vote for council president was split 5–4 in favor of Sandberg over Matt Flaherty.

Sandberg also served as council president in 2008, 2011 and 2017. She has also served a couple years as council vice president and one year as parliamentarian.

Like the mayor and the city clerk, the nine city councilmembers serve four-year terms. All nine members of the council, the mayor, and the clerk, are elected every four years. That means if Sandberg declares her candidacy for mayor in 2023, there will be at least one open seat on the city council with no incumbent running.

Sandberg was a campaign co-chair for mayor John Hamilton’s 2019 re-election bid. Hamilton has not made a formal announcement of his intention to run for reelection in 2023, but is expected to. Continue reading “Possible mayoral run for Sandberg: Bloomington city council president forms exploratory committee”

Bloomington alters zoning to reduce monoliths, spur affordability; city council could push more tweaks

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a raft of changes to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) that were in many cases purely technical in nature.

But some of the changes were meant to support specific policy goals— like preventing massive buildings that have been called as “monolithic” in character, and encouraging developers to use the affordability incentives that are already included in the UDO.

Developers will now get a smaller building floor plate “by right.” They’ll get a bit of a bump in square footage if they use either the sustainable development incentive alone or the affordable housing incentive alone. But they’ll get a significant increase in floor plate area, if they use both incentive types.

The changes to the UDO approved by the city council were spread across four different ordinances. The legislation had been initiated by planning staff and recommended for approval by the city’s plan commission.

During an interlude in Wednesday’s proceedings—to solve some remote connectivity issues—Bloomington director of planning and transportation Scott Robinson reminded city councilmembers that they, too, can initiate changes to zoning code. Continue reading “Bloomington alters zoning to reduce monoliths, spur affordability; city council could push more tweaks”

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 51 apartments, 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”

Upcoming local income tax negotiations could run deep, wide for Bloomington city council

Based on the Bloomington city council’s discussion at its committee-of-the whole meeting on Wednesday, Monroe County residents will likely see a higher local income tax (LIT) rate than the 1.345 percent they pay now.

But given the way deliberations unfolded at Wednesday’s committee meeting, the higher rate will not reflect the full amount of the 0.855 point increase that Bloomington’s mayor has pitched to them.

Adding the extra 0.855 percent would bring Monroe County’s total local income tax rate to 2.2 percent.

Some councilmembers expressed concerns about the size of the increase. But there seems to be a basic agreement on the city’s legislative body about one thing: The city of Bloomington needs additional revenue.

City controller Jeff Underwood displayed a bar chart comparing existing revenue sources to expenditures over the next four years. The bars show a deficit of around $5 million each year.

One of the needs Underwood has identified is to increase the compensation of city workers in order to stay competitive, even with other local employers, Underwood said. “We’re not losing people to Carmel—we’re losing people to Ellettsville,” he added.

During public commentary, the heads of the city’s firefighter and municipal worker unions confirmed that the city is losing people to other higher-paying jobs that are not with the city of Bloomington.

Several of the remarks from councilmembers on Wednesday seemed to coalesce around the idea of finding some rate of increase that all nine councilmembers could live with.

The LIT increase, along with two $5 million bond issuances appear on the council’s April 20 agenda for a potential vote. Continue reading “Upcoming local income tax negotiations could run deep, wide for Bloomington city council”

Bloomington city council balks for now at vacating some public right-of-way on former hospital site

A request from Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) to vacate parts of two alleys in one of the blocks near the former site of the IU Health hospital was denied by Bloomington’s city council at its Wednesday meeting.

The vote was split 4–5, but not along familiar lines.

Voting to give up the right-of-way were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Sue Sgambelluri, Jim Sims, and Ron Smith. Voting against the vacation of the alleys were: Matt Flaherty, Dave Rollo, Kate Rosenbarger, Susan Sandberg, and Steve Volan.

The RDC’s request came in connection with the planned redevelopment of the site, which Bloomington is acquiring from the health provider in a $6.5 million real estate deal. Continue reading “Bloomington city council balks for now at vacating some public right-of-way on former hospital site”

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”