Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time

At last Friday’s work session held by Bloomington’s city council, councilmember Steve Volan announced that he would be submitting a new ordinance for consideration that would “set a hard limit for all meetings to five and a half hours.”

Volan’s proposal to make city council meeting length a matter of local law comes after a record-setting nine-hour city council meeting that took place in early March.

On Friday, Volan added, “I don’t know when leadership would like to take that up. I’d like to see it taken up as soon as possible.”

I’d like to see Volan’s proposed ordinance ignored by the council’s leadership.

Consideration of such an ordinance would count as a distraction from a more pressing need—to address the kind of basic procedural dysfunctions that plague Bloomington’s city council.

While a nine-hour meeting can be headline grabbing, three-hour meetings that should have required only 90 minutes are also problematic. Perhaps even more troublesome are whole meetings that could have easily been elided. Continue reading “Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time”

Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance

A proposed new Bloomington law that would provide some protections to encampments of houseless people has been referred to the city council’s committee of the whole.

On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.

Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.

The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.

Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

The city council’s public safety standing committee is made up of Piedmont-Smith, Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Jim Sims.

That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.

With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.

The contentious vote on committee referral was consistent with ongoing skirmishes among councilmembers over the creation and use of standing committees. Continue reading “Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance”

Bloomington city council creates standing committees on 5–4 vote

At Wednesday’s regular meeting, after about two hours of deliberation, Bloomington’s city council voted 5-4 to establish eight new four-member standing committees.

Wednesday’s vote means that after a first reading of a new local law, the council will now have the option of referring the legislation to any of the standing committees for further consideration. And as one consequence of local code, a standing committee can meet twice on a referred proposal, before it has to report back to the full council. Continue reading “Bloomington city council creates standing committees on 5–4 vote”

Bloomington city councilmember: It’s now time for standing committees, and time limits on speaking turns

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At its Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 work session,  Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan introduces the specifics of one possible approach to establishing a slate of four-member standing committees, to which the city council could refer legislation. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

At a work session held on Friday, Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan introduced a proposal he’s put on the agenda for the council’s first meeting of the year, on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Volan’s resolution would use existing city code to establish several four-member standing committees, adding to the already-existing land use committee. The land use committee is the subset of councilmembers to which planned unit developments (PUDs) have been referred for the last couple years, after getting a first reading in front of the council.

Much of Friday’s discussion focused on the role of standing committees in the process of approving legislation. But Volan’s arguments for standing committees include the idea of better equipping the council, as the legislative branch, to carry out its defined role as a check on the executive. Continue reading “Bloomington city councilmember: It’s now time for standing committees, and time limits on speaking turns”

UDO Update: Text finalized after final skirmish on parking mins, effective date depends on map adoption

Bloomington’s city council voted 9-0 on Wednesday night to approve an update to its unified development ordinance (UDO), which is the basic zoning and land use document for the city.
Continue reading “UDO Update: Text finalized after final skirmish on parking mins, effective date depends on map adoption”

Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end

Bloomington’s city council made some progress on Wednesday night towards setting its schedule for hearing, amending and adopting an updated unified development ordinance. cropped udo schedule calendar-4159913_1280The sometimes tedious character of the half-hour discussion on scheduling was summed up by the council’s attorney/administrator Dan Sherman, when he said to the council, “Thank you for entertaining that can of worms!”

One basic feature of the schedule was already known, based on discussion at a work session last Friday: Hearings on revisions to the city’s basic land use document will start on Oct. 16, which is a Wednesday, the usual day for council meetings.

But the start time for Wednesday’s event will be different from regular meetings. It will be called to order at 6 p.m. And it won’t go past 10 p.m.—unless the council votes at the meeting to extend the time, based on how things unfold at the meeting.

The 6 p.m. start time is common to all of the scheduled UDO hearing dates, except for one. How long the other meetings will last, time limits for public speaking turns and time limits for councilmember questions and comments will be decided at the Oct. 16 meeting.

On Wednesday, the council voted to adopt a schedule featuring a dozen dates for work on the UDO update. The first four meetings are devoted to presentation of parts of the updated UDO and public commentary. That is, no amendments will be considered at the first four hearings.

Preliminary UDO hearing schedule

Oct. 16 Chapter 1, Chapter 2, structuring debate
Oct. 22 Chapter 3
Oct. 23 Chapter 4, Chapter 5
Oct. 30 Chapter 6, Chapter 7, consideration of written objections
Nov. 13 Consideration of amendments non-UDO business?
Nov. 14 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 19 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 20 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 04 [6:30 p.m.] Announcement of further UDO consideration? non-UDO business?
Dec. 10 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 11 non-UDO business?
Dec. 12 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 17 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 18 Further consideration of written objections; FINAL ACTION

The schedule is subject to revision by vote of the council. The public can monitor a separate web page set up on the city’s website for scheduling information. Continue reading “Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end”

Zoning for 750-bed student complex gets OK, after local lawmakers relent

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Proposed planned unit development (PUD) zoning for a 750-bed student housing project on North Walnut Street, at the site of the current Motel 6, is now approved after a special meeting of the Bloomington City council on Monday night.

Responding to a question from The Beacon after the meeting, St. Louis-based Collegiate Development Group’s Brandt Stiles said construction is planned to start in July 2020, and the first tenants are expected to be able to move in by August 2022.

The council had defeated the proposed PUD zoning 12 days earlier with a vote of 3-5-1. Those five votes against the project on the nine-member council were enough to reject it on Sept. 4, after the city’s plan commission had recommended it unanimously.

Of the five previous no votes on the city council, two changed to yes—Steve Volan and Isabel Piedmont-Smith’s. Changing his vote from abstention to a yes was Chris Sturbaum. So the PUD zoning was approved on a 5-3 tally. Possibly adding a sixth to the yes side would have been Allison Chopra, who voted for the PUD on Sept. 4. She was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Voting no were Dave Rollo, Dorothy Granger and Andy Ruff.

Achieving clarity in writing about various concessions offered by CDG, through “reasonable conditions,” proved to be persuasive enough to add the three yes votes.

Those conditions included: sliding the building to the west nearer Walnut Street; creating a plaza in place of parking in front of the building, with two pedestrian access points to the plaza; removal of one floor from the east building; 50 solar panels generating a total of 20kW; a 20,000 square-foot green roof; parking offered to tenants only on an a-la-carte basis; $300,000 worth of sidewalk improvements on Walnut, and from Walnut to Dunn on 19th Street; funding of a Bloomington Transit route five miles long (around $130,000 a year); and adding additional brick to the facade.

Also a part of the project is a donation to the city’s housing development fund of more than $2 million.

The three councilmembers in opposition to the project did not exploit a chance they had towards the beginning of the meeting to end the proceedings early, and let the council’s Sept. 4 vote stand. That’s because the motion to suspend the rules, in order to bring back the question, needed a two-thirds majority, which is six votes on the nine-member council.

Had all three voted against suspending the rules, the motion, in Chopra’s absence, would fallen short of the six votes it needed. If that vote had failed, the next motion would have been to adjourn.

During the meeting, Rollo said that as a councilmember he might have voted against suspending the rules, but as president of the council, he wanted to allow the council’s majority to prevail on the merits of the project, which he understood to be in favor. After the meeting, Ruff called the decision to treat as separate issues the motion to suspend the rules and the vote on the project itself the “right thing to do.”

Continue reading “Zoning for 750-bed student complex gets OK, after local lawmakers relent”

Collegiate Development Group’s modified student housing proposal rejected by Bloomington city council

Bloomington’s city council voted Wednesday night on proposed zoning for a student-oriented housing development at the site of the current Motel 6 on North Walnut Street. The outcome was 3–5–1.

That is, it got three votes in favor, five against, and one abstention from the nine-member council.

That tally defeated Collegiate Development Group’s proposal for planned unit development (PUD) zoning, to accommodate a 750-bed development at the site.

The bedroom count had been trimmed, from 820, in the week since the council’s land use committee met for a second time on the proposal. The committee’s vote on its recommendation to the full council was 0-1-3. The reduced number of bedrooms was a result of slicing the top floor off one of the buildings. Based on the formula used by CDG to calculate its contribution to the city’s housing development fund, the bedroom reduction dropped the amount from $2.46 million to $2.25 million.

Other changes in the last week included the addition of a 2,000 square foot green roof and 50 solar panels that could generate 20kW of power—for common areas and the 457-space parking structure that was a part of the development. Continue reading “Collegiate Development Group’s modified student housing proposal rejected by Bloomington city council”