Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear

Bloomington’s city councilmembers want mayor John Hamilton’s administration to make policy choices that are consistent with the community’s values. And they want to see those choices reflected in the annual budget.

Otherwise put, Bloomington’s city council is like any other city council in America.

It’s a reasonable and normal expectation for the legislative branch of local government that the budget will be a reflection of local community priorities.

And that’s why the annual budget is the most important legislation considered by the city council every year.

But the budget is not the only piece of legislation that the city council could take up in the course of a calendar year. The legislative body does not need to wait for the administration to propose the annual budget or any other law.

Bloomington’s city council has, on occasion, proven that it’s aware of its own ability to originate new local laws.

For example, when some councilmembers determined that prohibiting turns on red lights at several additional downtown intersections would improve pedestrian safety, they initiated a traffic ordinance and worked with the city staff to get the details right. It was enacted as local law by the city council in early April.

But shifting itself out of park and into legislative gear is not an approach that appears to be favored by the council.

And that’s too bad.

On the upside, during budget season, some councilmembers seem to have sorted out a good answer to this question: What’s the clearest way to signal to the mayor what a majority of city councilmembers think? Take an actual vote. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear”

Public right-of-way issues: Use of Kirkwood for dining through Oct. 31 mulled by Bloomington city council, motorcoaches get some parking commission talk

Bloomington restaurants might be able to continue using a few blocks of Kirkwood Avenue as restaurant seating, through Oct. 31.

That’s the effect of a resolution to be considered by Bloomington’s city council at its regular Wednesday meeting this week (June 2).

In mid-December last year, the council passed a resolution  extending the measures through Aug. 6.

The resolution on the council’s Wednesday agenda would also ask the city engineer to issue another temporary order to allow for the continued use of pick-up-drop off (PUDO) zones and “parklets” through Oct. 31. Parklets are the metered parking spots blocked off with orange water-filled traffic barriers to allow for additional outdoor restaurant seating.

The PUDO zones, as well as restaurant seating in the street and in parklets, were conceived as a way to help the business community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the provisions of the ordinance the council would be extending is the suspension of fees that would ordinarily be charged for seating and merchandising encroachments within the right-of-way.

No fees are currently being charged to business owners for parklets, PUDO zones, or Kirkwood seating, director of economic and sustainability Alex Crowley confirmed to The Square Beacon in an email last week.

Crowley’s confirmation that no fees are being charged came with a caveat: “For now.”

How the private use of the public right-of-way is regulated is fundamental to the policy question to be considered by the city council this week.

It’s the same kind of issue that appeared on the city’s parking commission agenda last Thursday—purely as a discussion item—in connection with motorcoach street parking for downtown hotels. Continue reading “Public right-of-way issues: Use of Kirkwood for dining through Oct. 31 mulled by Bloomington city council, motorcoaches get some parking commission talk”

Draft climate action plan for Bloomington includes recommendations for 17 changes to local law

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the week before Thanksgiving, a draft of a climate action plan for Bloomington was presented to the city council’s four-member standing committee on climate action and resilience.

The meat of the 158-page draft climate action plan is a table of 266 recommended actions, organized under 61 strategies, which fall under 26 goals for eight general topics.

The eight topics are: transportation and land use, energy and built environment, waste management, water and wastewater, local food and agriculture, health and safety, greenspace and ecosystem health, and climate economy.

The plan is supposed to provide a blueprint for Bloomington to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, with a goal of carbon neutrality, and make preparations for climate change.

The draft includes 17 different recommendations for changes to local law, among them some changes to the unified development ordinance (UDO).

The recommended changes to the UDO in the draft climate action plan (CAP) do not include any revisions to the zoning code on residential building forms (i.e., plexes), which are expected to generate considerable controversy when they’re taken up by the plan commission in the second half of January. Continue reading “Draft climate action plan for Bloomington includes recommendations for 17 changes to local law”

From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts

Late August marked the conclusion of a four-night series of city council hearings on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget. Shortly after that, councilmembers submitted written questions to city staff.

In the second week of September, staff responses to councilmember questions were posted in a Q&A document on the city’s budget web page.

Whether the concerns expressed in the written questions or during the budget hearings will result in changes to the budget won’t be known for sure until the final budget is presented to the city council on Sept. 30.

A vote to adopt Bloomington’s city budget is set for Oct. 14. Continue reading “From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts”

Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021

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Rendering of the integrated art project for the 4th Street parking garage that has been designed by Project ONE Studio. The quilted grids are to be fabricated out of  painted aluminum.

By August 2021, motorists in downtown Bloomington could have 537 more parking spaces to choose from.

On Monday night, the city’s plan commission approved a design for a new garage at the same site, on the same footprint, where the old 4th Street parking garage stood, until it was demolished in late 2019. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021”

Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks

Policies on the temporary storage of vehicles inside Bloomington’s city limits, aka “parking,” are key to retaining residents and businesses downtown, as well as the success of cultural events downtown, like this past weekend’s Lotus Festival. Parking as a policy issue reaches into the leafy neighborhoods, outside of downtown.

Late last year and earlier this spring, business owners raised the specter of relocating out of downtown, if their employee parking would be contingent on a quarterly engineering inspection of a repaired 4th Street structure. That led to the reversal of the city council’s initial decision to repair, not rebuild, the 4th Street parking garage. Demolition of the structure started in earnest his past week.

Part of what makes Lotus Festival possible is the reservation of hundreds of parking spaces with bright orange signs marking each space, indicating when motorists are not allowed to park there. They cost $20 apiece plus $10 for administration.

Street parking in the area north of downtown roughly bounded by Walnut and Woodlawn and by 17th and 13th has, since Aug. 15, required a residential neighborhood parking permit. The newly defined Zone 6, has round-the-clock enforcement from Thursday through Sunday.

It’s the city’s parking commission that has purview over these kinds of parking issues. The commission’s meetings are open to the public, like those of all boards and commissions.

The bright orange reserved parking signs got some brief discussion at last Thursday’s meeting, as did the early feedback on Zone 6 and other neighborhood parking permit areas that had their rules tweaked starting Aug. 15. Commissioners heard enough positive feedback that the changes are considered a success.

Its meeting last Thursday was the first one  for the parking commission since June, after its regular sessions in July and August were cancelled due to lack of a quorum.

Difficulty in achieving a quorum is related to one of the topics for future discussion identified by parking commissioners on Thursday. Scott Robinson, who’s assistant director for the city’s transportation and planning department, suggested the combination of three transportation-related commissions: parking, traffic, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Here’s a round-up of parking commission meeting topics, other issues commissioners might be tackling, and some other parking-related talk The Beacon has heard at other public meetings. Continue reading “Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks”

City Council preview Aug. 14, 2019: One travel lane for Dunn Street mulled, based on traffic study

After postponing the question at its Aug. 7 meeting, Bloomington’s city council will take up the issue on Wednesday (Aug. 14) of adding parking to Dunn Street, between 6th and 10th Streets. The proposal is to reduce the two-lane, one-way street to a single travel lane.

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Dunn Street at 10th looking south. Aug. 12, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The Dunn Street parking proposal is part of some legislation that also revises a neighborhood permit parking zone boundary for residents who live on 17th Street. What’s proposed is to add the south side of 17th Street to the newly established neighborhood parking permit Zone 6, in the Garden Hill neighborhood, west of the Indiana University football stadium.

The legislation revising the parking ordinance is a second reading, so action by the council would be the final vote.

The council’s Wednesday agenda also features a first-reading item—an appropriation ordinance to supplement Bloomington Transit’s 2019 budget. The local public transit agency recently received federal grant awards that will allow it to purchase $1,128,000 worth of new buses—one battery-electric bus for fixed route service and two buses for para-transit service. The grants cover $902,401 of the cost.

Next week on Tuesday, the council will hear Bloomington Transit’s 2020 budget proposal, as part of a four-day Monday-through-Thursday series of presentations from all city departments about their proposed budgets for the next year.

In 2020, Bloomington Transit will be budgeting for an additional four battery-electric buses at a cost of $1 million apiece—contingent on winning the kind of grants that are funding 80 percent of the cost of the electric bus in Wednesday’s appropriation ordinance.

Continue reading “City Council preview Aug. 14, 2019: One travel lane for Dunn Street mulled, based on traffic study”

City Council OKs looser parking commission requirements, but still not Dunn with parking

Bloomington’s city council voted Wednesday night to relax some membership requirements of the parking commission, a move meant to make it more likely the commission has a full complement of nine members.

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Looking south on Dunn Street where one of the “no parking signs” would be removed, if a proposed change to the parking ordinance is approved. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

But the council postponed a couple of changes to the city’s parking code until its Aug. 14 meeting. The changes are bundled into the same legislation, so both changes were postponed, even though the council appeared ready to support one of them.

Councilmembers were in agreement on a change that added the south side of 17th Street between Walnut and Dunn to the newly established neighborhood parking permit Zone 6, in the Garden Hill neighborhood, west of the Indiana University football stadium.

But they hesitated to approve a change that would allow for parking on Dunn Street, between 6th Street and 10th Street. Continue reading “City Council OKs looser parking commission requirements, but still not Dunn with parking”

City Council Preview Aug. 7, 2019: Parking commission, street parking

Separate parking issues on Dunn Street and 17th Street together make up one of the two items on Wednesday’s city council agenda. The second agenda item is also related to parking—the eligibility requirements for service on the parking commission are proposed to be loosened.

Continue reading “City Council Preview Aug. 7, 2019: Parking commission, street parking”

City Council Preview July 31, 2019: Scooters, a PUD, not Dunn parking

When Bloomington’s common council meets on Wednesday in regular session for the first time since June 12, the city’s nine elected representatives will confront for the fifth time a package of legislation that regulates shared-use (and other) e-scooters.
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Local scooter laws are likely to be the focus of detailed deliberations at the regular meeting, unlike the other two main topics on the agenda.

The council will get a first reading of a proposed zoning ordinance change to allow for construction of an 820-bedroom project at the site of the current Motel 6 on Walnut Street, across from Miller Showers Park. Based on a note in the packet of meeting materials, the first council deliberations on the project are not expected to take place until Aug. 7, at a committee meeting.

The council will also get a first reading of some changes to ordinances involving parking. Those ordinance changes are on the agenda for the committee of the whole, which will convene right after the regular session adjourns on Wednesday. One parking ordinance change would remove some, but not all, “no parking” restrictions on Dunn Street. The other ordinance involving parking involves loosening the membership requirements of the parking commission.

More on e-scooters, student housing and parking after the jump. [Meeting agendas and information packets are available for download on Bloomington’s website. Regular meetings start at 6:30 p.m. in city council chambers at city hall. They’re live streamed on CATS.]
Continue reading “City Council Preview July 31, 2019: Scooters, a PUD, not Dunn parking”