Technology center for Trades District gets OK from Bloomington plan commission

Getting unanimous approval from Bloomington’s plan commission on Monday night was the site plan for a three-story, 21,000-square-foot office building in the Trades District.

The joint project of the city’s economic and sustainable development (ESD) department and the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation is the planned home of a technology center that won a $3.5 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.

The total cost of the project is around $5.5 million. Bloomington’s redevelopment commission is using tax increment finance (TIF) revenue to make the required local match of the federal dollars.

The site is now a vacant lot,  north of the old Showers Company building that houses the Monroe County government center, as well as city hall. It is just south of The Mill, which is a co-working space that has been developed as an adaptive reuse of another old Showers building. Continue reading “Technology center for Trades District gets OK from Bloomington plan commission”

Did Bloomington plan commission meeting follow state law on electronic meetings?

Monday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s plan commission was the first one since Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency health order was lifted.

The plan commission’s meeting was conducted on a hybrid in-person-electronic platform.

Just four commissioners attended in person, out of nine voting members. Two participated via Zoom video conference.

Four out of nine is 44.4 percent, which is less than the 50 percent required to be physically present at a hybrid meeting—under an amendment to the Open Door Law (ODL) made by the state legislature in 2021.

For insight on the question of the plan commission’s possible violation of the ODL, The B Square has reached out to city attorney Mike Rouker, who attended Monday’s plan commission meeting.

The change to the ODL in 2021 recognized the benefit of allowing some members of a public body to participate remotely, based on experience with such meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.  But the legislature restricted remote participation in several ways.

One example of a restriction on hybrid meetings, which was observed by Bloomington plan commissioners on Monday night, is the requirement that votes have to be taken by a roll call.

Another requirement is that at least half the members of the governing body must be physically present.

That’s a requirement that does not seem to have been met. Continue reading “Did Bloomington plan commission meeting follow state law on electronic meetings?”

Complaint filed: City’s plan commission violated Open Door Law, says Bloomington resident

In a formal complaint filed with Indiana’s public access counselor (PAC) on Friday, Bloomington resident Andrew Guenther has alleged that the city’s plan commission violated Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL) when it held a lunch session on Feb. 8.

The apparent purpose of the Feb. 8 meeting, and others like it in the past, was to give plan commissioners a preview of cases that would be appearing on the next month’s regular meeting agenda.

Guenther’s specific complaint is that no notice of the lunchtime meeting was given to the public as required under the ODL.

Guenther’s conclusion that the plan commission posted no public notice of the Feb. 8 meeting, as required under the ODL, is based on the fact the city of Bloomington has not provided a copy of the public notice, in response to a records request he made under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act on Feb. 16.

The formal complaint filed with the PAC alleges similar violations of the ODL, on a monthly basis, for the last four years. During that period, the plan commission allegedly met on the day after a regular monthly meeting to preview upcoming petitions, without posting required notice. Continue reading “Complaint filed: City’s plan commission violated Open Door Law, says Bloomington resident”

Hopewell: Name of new neighborhood to be built on former hospital site announced

When some Bloomington residents came together to engage the public process connected to the city’s rezoning effort a couple of years ago, they called themselves the Hopewell Group.

They took the moniker from the hospital that was opened about 120 years ago by the Local Council of Women at First and Rogers Streets. The brick building, which was called Hopewell House, along with four and a half acres of land, was purchased from Isaac Hopewell. The headline of the Nov. 29, 1905 edition of the Bloomington World read “Open Hospital.”

Also bearing the Hopewell name will be a new neighborhood to be built on the site of the hospital that eventually replaced Hopewell House. The city of Bloomington announced the choice of name in a news release issued Friday.

The name “Hopewell Subdivision” appears on the plat that Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) has submitted to the city’s plan commission for review at its Monday, Feb. 7 meeting. Continue reading “Hopewell: Name of new neighborhood to be built on former hospital site announced”

Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending

From left: Bloomington city councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Ron Smith at the Oct. 31, 2021 announcement of Democrat Penny Githens’ candidacy for District 62 state representative. All nine members of Bloomington’s city council are Democrats.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council made Ron Smith its appointee to the city plan commission for the coming year.

The other councilmember who had asked to be appointed was Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

For Piedmont-Smith it was the second year in a row that she was not the council’s pick as its appointment to the plan commission. The outcome was decided  by the same 5–4 margin. Last year, it was Susan Sandberg who was put in the plan commission seat.

Smith prevailed on the same 5–4 split as last year, which broke down along the same lines as the vote for council president and vice president at last week’s meeting.

The five voting for Smith were: Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, Dave Rollo, and Jim Sims. The four voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Steve Volan and Kate Rosenbarger.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda was a resolution that would eliminate most of the council’s standing committees.

After two hours of debate, mostly in the guise of questions that were put to the resolution’s sponsors, the council voted to postpone consideration of the resolution until its Jan. 19 meeting.

The resolution eliminating several of the council’s standing committees is sponsored by Sandberg, Sgambelluri and Sims.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending”

Stay granted: GOP pick for Bloomington plan commission won’t be seated pending appeal

Andrew Guenther will not be serving as a Bloomington plan commissioner—at least not for the next several months—even though a mid-November order from special judge Erik Allen installed him in a plan commission seat effective immediately.

From left: Chris Cockerham and Andrew Guenther.

On Monday morning, Allen granted a request
from the city of Bloomington for a stay of his November order, pending the appeal for which the city has given notice.

That means Chris Cockerham will continue serving on the Bloomington plan commission while the appeal is battled out in court.

The order granting the stay came the morning of the same day when the plan commission next meets—Monday at 5:30 p.m.

The stay means that it will be Cockerham, not Guenther, who appears in the Zoom videoconference square for the plan commission’s Monday night meeting.

The end of 2021 will mark the half-way point in the four-year term of the disputed plan commission seat. It is conceivable that the appeal could take up much of the remaining two years in the term.

It was in mid-2020 when the lawsuit over the plan commission seat was filed by Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis and Andrew Guenther. Continue reading “Stay granted: GOP pick for Bloomington plan commission won’t be seated pending appeal”

Court rules for GOP chair, against Bloomington mayor on disputed plan commission seat

Andrew Guenther is the rightful appointee to Bloomington’s plan commission, according to a lower court ruling issued on Thursday morning.

The image links to the an OCRed version of the complete ruling from judge Erik Allen.

The ruling was made by Greene County special judge Erik Allen, who was appointed to hear the case after Monroe County circuit court judges recused themselves.

Judge Allen was elected as a Republican. The case is inherently partisan in character.

In the lawsuit, Monroe County Republican chair William Ellis sought to assert a right under state law provided to a party chair, to appoint Guenther to a spot on the Bloomington plan commission.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s position was that he retained the right to make the appointment, even after leaving the seat vacant for more than 90 days.

In any event, it was  undisputed that non-affiliation with the Democratic Party was essential—in order to conform with the partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral-appointed seats on the nine-member plan commission.

Hamilton’s eventual pick to fill the vacancy—which was created when he chose not to re-appoint Nick Kappas at the start of 2020—was real estate broker Chris Cockerham.

Cockerham has been serving in the seat contested by Guenther since May 2020.

One of the points of judge Allen’s ruling was that Cockerham’s appointment was not valid, because Cockerham was at the time of his appointment a Democrat as defined by state law. The most recent primary in which he had participated was a primary of the Democratic Party. Continue reading “Court rules for GOP chair, against Bloomington mayor on disputed plan commission seat”

Bloomington plan commission meets on Kmart redevelopment: “Yes, it’s better. But is it good?”

At its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s plan commission voted to continue the proposed redevelopment of the Kmart property on East Third Street to its second hearing. That is now set for June 14.

The outcome of Monday’s vote was not exactly hanging in the balance, because the 900-bedroom housing project does not include a rezone request.

That means its approval by the plan commission is “by right”—if it meets the standard conditions required in the MC (mixed-use corridor) zoning district. It also means that the project does not need approval from the city council. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission meets on Kmart redevelopment: “Yes, it’s better. But is it good?””

906-bedroom project for former Kmart site to get Bloomington plan commission review

Queued up for possible inclusion on the Bloomington plan commission’s May 10 agenda is a proposal to redevelop the former Kmart site on the south side of 3rd Street in the College Mall area.

The proposal from Trinitas, called The District at Latimer Square, would leave the Bloomingfoods grocery in place.

But the proposal would demolish the vacant Kmart building and excavate the parking lot, for construction of a 340-unit multi-family and student-oriented housing development, offering a total of 906 bedrooms.

The layout of the project would include five residential buildings, one leasing and amenity building, and a 385-space parking structure. The site will include another 100 surface parking spaces, and 57 parallel parking spaces, for a total of 542 parking spaces.

The student-oriented apartments would be constructed in the three buildings on the northern part of the site. The multi-family housing would be constructed in the two buildings on the southern part of the site.

The units will all be rental, none for sale as condos, and will be offered at the prevailing market rental rate in Bloomington. So the project will not include any “affordable units” defined in terms of HUD standards for area median income (AMI).

The timeframe for the project, according to the Trinitas submission to the city’s planning and transportation department, includes a hearing in May in front of the plan commission and a second hearing in June, and a construction start in November this year, with completion by 2023. Continue reading “906-bedroom project for former Kmart site to get Bloomington plan commission review”

Disputed plan commission seat: Court of appeals rules against Bloomington

On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel from Indiana’s Court of Appeals issued a unanimous ruling that goes against Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton and the city of Bloomington.

The ruling could be pivotal in the case of a disputed city plan commission seat that dates back to spring 2020. But Tuesday’s ruling leaves unresolved some crucial matters of statutory interpretation.

When the case goes back to the circuit court, it’s possible the special judge in the case, Erik Allen, could eventually issue an order that recognizes Andrew Guenther as the rightful appointee to the Bloomington plan commission, instead of Chris Cockerham.

Or Allen could decide that Cockerham is the right person for the spot.

That will depend on how Allen analyzes the questions of law in the case, which involve partisan balancing of boards and commissions

Tuesday’s order from the court of appeals panel simply affirmed Allen’s decision to deny the city of Bloomington’s motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss was based on the idea that Guenther, and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis, lacked legal standing to file their lawsuit.

In spring 2020, Ellis claimed a right under a state statute to make the plan commission appointment, and designated Guenther as his appointee. Under normal circumstances, it’s a mayoral appointment.

Ellis made his appointment under a state statute that gives a party chair the right to make the appointment if the mayor does not make it in a timely way—within 90 days after the expiry of the appointee’s term.

Hamilton’s appointment of Cockerham came after Ellis announced he had appointed Guenther. Cockerham has been serving as Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s appointee to the city’s plan commission since summer 2020. Continue reading “Disputed plan commission seat: Court of appeals rules against Bloomington”