Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way

Voted down on Wednesday by Bloomington’s city council, with just two votes in favor, was an ordinance that would have explicitly prohibited camping, storing personal property, or blocking the public right-of-way, among other things.

Supporting the ordinance were Sue Sgambelluri and Susan Sandberg. Abstaining was Dave Rollo. The other five councilmembers who were present all voted against it. Ron Smith was absent.

Rollo said he was inclined to bring a motion to table the ordinance. Councilmember Jim Sims said he was inclined to put off a vote, but if it came down to a vote that night, he would vote no.

A basic concern for those who opposed the ordinance was that it punishes the unhoused population, without offering a solution for storing their belongings in a place other than the public right-of-way.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty’s sentiments reflected the views of others, when he said that crafting a better ordinance “will take months of community engagement and outreach and collaboration between the executive and legislative branch and the whole community to arrive at a solution.”

Flaherty added, “So I don’t think this is honestly well suited for just tabling or postponing and bringing back with a few clarifications, in a few weeks time.” Rollo said it was clear that there would not be majority support for tabling, so he did not make that motion. Continue reading “Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way”

Bloomington boards act on tents, belongings in parks, public right-of-way

Board of public works

Board of park commissioners

On Tuesday, Bloomington’s board of public works passed a resolution asking that the city council enact an ordinance that will keep the public right-of-way clear of tents or belongings.

It’s not clear when or if the city council will follow the board’s recommendation.

The following day, the board of park commissioners took action, to enact a new policy that essentially prohibits tents in parks. The new policy takes effect on Aug. 23—that’s next Wednesday.

Action by the two boards on successive days is part of a general effort by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration, to regulate the way Bloomington’s unhoused population is able to use public space.

Director of public works Adam Wason described to the three-member board of public how the draft ordinance would make clear that the police have the legal authority, to immediately clear the right-of-way of someone’s belongings, if they do not respond to a request to move.

Parks and recreation director Paula McDevitt told the board that the intent of the new policy against tents and other makeshift enclosures is to ensure that parks areas can be used and enjoyed “by the whole community.” The way tents are now used in parts has created serious public health and safety risks, due in part to illegal activity, McDevitt said.

McDevitt said the policy does not prohibit unenclosed shade structures, if they don’t shield from public view what is happening under them.

At both meetings, commentary from the public mic in favor of the administration’s position came from business owners, and business advocacy groups—the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Bloomington, Inc.

Public comment against the administration’s approach came from social service workers, members of mutual aid groups like Help Ourselves, and other advocates for the unhoused. Continue reading “Bloomington boards act on tents, belongings in parks, public right-of-way”

City council’s tighter parking space limits left alone by short-handed Bloomington plan commission

The maximum number of parking spaces allowed for restaurant parking in Bloomington will remain, for at least a while, at 10 per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.

That’s one main result from the Bloomington plan commission’s Tuesday morning special meeting.

The other outcome from the meeting was that stadiums, if any new private facilities get built, will have a limit of 1 parking space for every 8 seats. That’s instead of the 1 space for every 4 seats that had originally been recommended by the plan commission three months ago.

Those outcomes reflected the amendments that Bloomington’s city council made to the plan commission’s recommended ordinance, when the council took action at its June 21 meeting.

The plan commission’s original recommendation, which it made on April 10, had been to increase the restaurant parking from 10 spaces to 15 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the plan commission voted 5–0 to approve the ordinance, as amended by the city council. Four plan commissioners were absent.

When changes to zoning code are made, the city council does eventually have the final word—but under state law, the plan commission gets a chance to make the council speak its final word again. Continue reading “City council’s tighter parking space limits left alone by short-handed Bloomington plan commission”

On 4–5 vote, city council rejects direct oversight of Bloomington traffic calming, greenways program

On a vote split along familiar lines, Bloomington’s city council has rejected an ordinance that would have required council approval for the installation of new traffic calming and greenway projects.

The vote came on Wednesday night just a few minutes before midnight, at a meeting that started at 6:30 p.m. The ordinance, which was sponsored by Dave Rollo failed on a 4–5 vote.

It was a familiar 4-4 split, with Sue Sgambelluri providing the deciding vote to give one side a majority.

Supporting the ordinance were Rollo, Jim Sims, Ron Smith, and Susan Sandberg. Voting against it were Sgambelluri, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and Steve Volan.

The outcome hung in the balance until Sgambelluri weighed in. As council president and chair of the meeting, she was last to offer her view.

Continue reading “On 4–5 vote, city council rejects direct oversight of Bloomington traffic calming, greenways program”

Bike-ped group advises against direct oversight of traffic calming projects by Bloomington city council

May 8, 2023 meeting of the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission. Clockwise from left corner of the frame: Zac Hunec, Mitch Rice, Paul Ash, Pauly Tarricone, Hank Duncan (staff), Ryan Robling (staff), Rob Danzman, Ann Edmonds, and Jaclyn Ray.

On a unanimous vote of its seven members on Monday night, Bloomington’s bicycle and pedestrian safety commission (BPSC) recommended that the city council not adopt an ordinance that would establish the council as the decision maker on traffic calming and greenway projects.

The ordinance appears on the city council’s Wednesday (May 10) meeting agenda.

The council had postponed consideration of the law at its meeting last week, specifically in order to give the BPSC a chance to weigh in on the latest version of the ordinance. Continue reading “Bike-ped group advises against direct oversight of traffic calming projects by Bloomington city council”

Bloomington’s redistricting commission finally meets for first time

Current city council districts with their associated populations based on the 2020 census. The screen shot comes from the Districtr software tool created by MGGG Lab at Tufts University. The image links to the tool.

On Monday, Bloomington’s five-member redistricting commission met for the first time, about 18 months after it was supposed to be established.

Key takeaways from Monday’s gathering included the setting of the next two meeting dates: July 25 (7:30 p.m.) and Aug. 9 (9:30 a.m.).

Later, a news release issued a call to the public to submit proposals for a new map of the six city council districts.

Resources to aid the public in drawing of maps have been set up on the redistricting commission’s web page.

Under state statute, the new map, which has to be population balanced, based on the 2020 census, needs to be approved by the city council before year’s end. It’s the map that will define the council districts for the 2023 municipal elections.

But under the new local law establishing the redistricting commission, a recommendation to the commission has to be submitted to the city council by Sept. 7. Continue reading “Bloomington’s redistricting commission finally meets for first time”

Lack of compliance with traffic plan: $25K in fines on student housing developer upheld by Bloomington

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works upheld about $25,000 in fines on Landmark Properties.

The developer is constructing a 1000-bed student-oriented housing development a few blocks south of Indiana University’s football stadium.

Landmark had appealed the fines, which were imposed for violations of its maintenance of traffic plan. That’s a plan that the city requires all developers to submit and follow in the course of construction. It includes signage and barricades for pedestrian walkways when sidewalks are closed, with directions to an alternate route.

The photos accompanying this article were taken on Jan. 31, 2022, and show what appear to be conditions that have now been put in compliance with the maintenance of traffic plan. Continue reading “Lack of compliance with traffic plan: $25K in fines on student housing developer upheld by Bloomington”

No more pet store sale of dogs or cats in Bloomington, starting Jan. 1, 2023

On an 8–0 vote on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council passed an ordinance that bans the sale of cats and dogs by retail pet stores.

That means Bloomington joins some other Indiana localities that have passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs by pet stores, which include: St. Joseph County, Columbus, Dyer, Highland, and Crown Point. The last four on that list passed the laws in 2021.

The two Bloomington stores that would be impacted by the new law are Delilah’s Pet Shop on West Third Street and Anthony’s Pets in College Mall.

The idea behind the new local law is to reduce the consumer demand for animals that is currently met by puppy and kitten mills—operations that put volume ahead of animal welfare.

This kind of ordinance is supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which says most of the dogs and cats sold in pet shops are sourced from puppy and kitten mills. Continue reading “No more pet store sale of dogs or cats in Bloomington, starting Jan. 1, 2023”

Possible new Bloomington law banning pet shop sale of cats, dogs would add to national momentum

Bloomington’s animal control commission voted unanimously on Monday to support a proposed new ordinance banning the sale of cats and dogs.

If the new ordinance is enacted by the city council, then starting in about a year, on Jan. 1, 2023, pet shops inside the city limits of Bloomington would not be able to sell dogs or cats.

Bloomington’s city council is supposed to hear the ordinance for a first reading at its meeting next week, on Nov. 17. The ordinance is being put forward by councilmembers Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The two Bloomington stores that would be impacted by the new law are Delilah’s Pet Shop on West Third Street and Anthony’s Pets in College Mall.

The idea of the ordinance was not controversial for animal control commissioners—they’d already been looking for movement in that direction. As animal commission president Valerie Peña put it: “Absolutely thrilled to see this. It has been a long time coming and it’s great news.”

The idea behind the new local law is to reduce the consumer demand for animals that is currently met by puppy and kitten mills—operations that put volume ahead of animal welfare. Continue reading “Possible new Bloomington law banning pet shop sale of cats, dogs would add to national momentum”

Column: Bloomington city council should quickly kill ordinance on meeting length, focus instead on budget, annexation and climate change

Introduced at last Wednesday’s Bloomington city council meeting was a possible new local law (Ordinance 21-34) that would attempt to put a time limit on city council meetings.

Probably every current and future Bloomington resident would welcome a world where the meetings of the local legislature did not last until 3:30 a.m.

Of course that’s exactly what happened on March 3 this year, when the city council debated an ordinance on protections for homeless encampments. The council was evenly split 4–4 on the substance of the issue, because one councilmember was absent due to a family tragedy.

Does Bloomington’s city council need yet another procedural tool, in order to avoid an overlong meeting like the one on March 3?

Of course not.

The council already has some tools that could have been used to do the job.

Should the Bloomington city council now invest any of its collective energy trying to repair the technical flaws in the proposed ordinance by considering amendments? No. The proposed ordinance cannot be salvaged through amendments.

The city council should instead start taking a hard look at the toxic procedural dysfunctions that often lead to 3-hour meetings  that could have ended at the 2-hour mark. Or 2-hour meetings that could have ended after 45 minutes. Or committee meetings that need not have been scheduled in the first place.

Instead of wallowing in the mire of patch-wise procedural revisions, the city council should instead focus first on its actual business.

Among its currently pending items are the 2022 budget, the annexation proposal, and climate change. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council should quickly kill ordinance on meeting length, focus instead on budget, annexation and climate change”