Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use

In a rare split vote, Monroe County commissioners have denied a request for the rezoning of some property east of the city of Bloomington.

The owner had requested a rezone, in order to use a farmhouse located on 19-acres as an Airbnb—that is, a short-term rental.

The specific proposal from Jason Voorhies was to change the zoning from Estate Residential 2.5 to Agricultural/Rural Reserve, which would have allowed use of the property as a tourist home/cabin.

The zoning change came with a commitment by Voorhies to apply for a historic preservation overlay. According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), the existing farmhouse and associated barn structures are listed as “contributing.” That’s a designation that means the property met the basic requirement of being pre-1970, but that it is not historic enough to stand on its own as “outstanding” or “notable.”

Part of the case Voorhies tried to make to commissioners was that the income from the property’s use as a short-term rental would help him to rehabilitate and maintain the farmhouse and two barns.

Wednesday’s vote by the three commissioners was not unanimous. Lee Jones voted yes while Penny Githens and Julie Thomas voted no. But as the appointee from the board of county commissioners to the plan commissioner, Thomas had voted for the rezone at that group’s June 21 meeting.

The plan commission’s recommendation was in support by just a 5–4 margin. Joining Thomas on that vote were: Jerry Pittsford, Dee Owens, Amy Thompson, and Bernard Guerrettaz. Voting against the recommendation on the plan commission were Trohn Enright-Randolph, Geoff McKim, Jim Stainbrook, and Margaret Clements.

As Thomas put it last week, when commissioners first heard the request, “I did vote yes, on the original petition, but I am nothing if not protean and willing to change my mind based on facts and data presented to me.” Continue reading “Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use”

Peoples State Bank headquarters on north side of Bloomington gets OK from plan commission

The great blue herons that take wing out of Miller-Showers Park after an afternoon of fishing, and then head to other hunting grounds, swooping out over the intersection of 17th Street and College Avenue, will soon have a literal bird’s eye view of the new corporate headquarters for Peoples State Bank on that corner.

Bloomington’s plan commission gave the project unanimous approval at its regular Monday meeting.

How soon the construction is finished will depend on the the availability of supplies and materials. The construction start could come this year or might be pushed off until the spring, according to Tim Cover, with Studio 3 Design.

Peoples bought the property for $1.95 million, from Pepsi-cola General Bottlers of Indiana in August of 2021. The bank has set up a drive-thru banking facility on the southeast side of the lot.

Peoples Bank will now undertake the demolition of the Pepsi bottling plant, followed by the construction of a four-story building, totaling about 34,200 square feet, located near the corner of 17th and College on the southeast side of the site. The bank will include a 3-lane drive-thru.

Cover presented the ins and outs of the project to the commission, highlighting the contrast between the amount of impervious surface planned for the new corporate headquarters (60 percent), compared to the current configuration (100 percent). Continue reading “Peoples State Bank headquarters on north side of Bloomington gets OK from plan commission”

Village Deli gets OK from Bloomington: 4-stack residential, pancakes still on ground floor

“Where am I supposed to get pancakes in the meantime?”

That was Bloomington plan commission president Brad Wisler’s lighthearted question to Village Deli owner Bob Costello, at the commission’s regular meeting on Monday.

Wisler’s “meantime” is the period between the upcoming demolition of the one-story Village Deli building on Kirkwood Avenue and the re-opening of the breakfast joint on the ground floor of a new four-story residential project at the same spot.

Wisler and other plan commissioners had just heard a presentation on the proposal, which would build 25 apartments with a total of 29 bedrooms—11 studios, 11 1-bedroom, two 2-bedroom, and one 3-bedroom apartment.

The ground floor will include a 12-stall parking garage for the residential tenants, who will access it off the rear alley. The ground floor will also have 2,700 square feet of restaurant space, which will be the Village Deli’s new home.

Based on the preview of the project given at a mid-June plan commission lunch session, a possible timeline for completion of the project is August 2023.

All other things being equal, that would have meant about a year-long Village Deli pancake void.

But Costello gave Wisler some welcome news: “Our current plan would be to relocate the Village Deli in another location. So we could continue to provide your delicious pancakes, Brad, and continue to employ the staff that we have, that make our business work every day!”

The project was not controversial for plan commissioners, who gave it unanimous approval. Continue reading “Village Deli gets OK from Bloomington: 4-stack residential, pancakes still on ground floor”

Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment

Late Tuesday, a petition was filed with the Indiana Supreme Court, to hear a case involving the rightful appointee to fill a vacant seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

Filing the petition were former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis, who is now vice chair, and Andrew Guenther, who at the time was affiliated with the Republican Party.

They say Guenther should now be sitting in the seat left vacant by Nick Kappas in January 2020, when Bloomington mayor John Hamilton chose not to reappoint him. Their claim is based on a state law that allows a party chair to make an appointment under certain circumstances. Ellis chose Guenther as his appointee.

The city of Bloomington’s position is that Chris Cockerham is the rightful appointee. Cockerham was the person Hamilton appointed. He has been serving for the last two years on the plan commission as the successor to Kappas.

Giving rise to the dispute is the statutory partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral appointees to city plan commissions in the state of Indiana. No more than three of the five can be affiliated with the same political party.

Is there also a statutory requirement that plan commmission appointees must be affiliated with some political party or other? That’s the key question of law at the heart of the case. Continue reading “Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment”

Bloomington high-speed internet deal with Meridiam gets final OK, other players have head start

Getting a final approval on Tuesday was a deal between Bloomington and Paris-based Meridiam, to build a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service to at least 85 percent of the city.

Provisional Meridiam network. Blue: arial network | Red: underground. (City of Bloomington Digital Underground: Purple) The image links to a dynamic version of the map.

Under the master development agreement, which has now been signed,  Meridiam would also offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

Green-lighted on Tuesday by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) was an expenditure agreement that reimburses to Meridiam, over a 20-year period, 95 percent of the roughly $10.9 million in personal property taxes on conduit and fiber, which Meridiam will pay during that time. The legal tool that is to be used is a tax increment finance (TIF) area.

Also approved on Tuesday, by Bloomington’s board of public works, was a master easement agreement that is supposed to make more expedient Meridiam’s access to Bloomington’s public right-of-way for conduit installation. Hoosier Networks is a company Meridiam has formed to do business in Indiana, so that’s the entity named in the agreement.

The board of public works also approved the use by Hoosier Networks of the roughly 17 miles of unused conduit, known as the Bloomington Digital Underground, in connection with building and operating its network.

In addition to the tax reimbursement, the RDC confirmed at its Tuesday meeting the declaratory resolution  that it had first approved in early June. The resolution declares an economic development area, designating it as a TIF (tax increment finance) area, approves an economic development plan, and finds that the public health and welfare will be benefited by the plan.

While the vote by the RDC on the tax reimbursement was 4–0, the tally was just 3–1 on the confirmation of the declaratory resolution. Dissenting was Randy Cassady. Continue reading “Bloomington high-speed internet deal with Meridiam gets final OK, other players have head start”

3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton (right) addresses the Bloomington city council on June 15, 2022.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council took a couple of steps, on 8–1 votes, as a part of a potential deal to get high-speed internet connections built for most of the city.

The pending agreement would be inked between Paris-based Meridiam and Bloomington.

Under the arrangement, Meridiam would construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service. Meridiam would offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

The arrangement would add another competitor to Bloomington’s market by giving an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP) exclusive access to the new network for at least five years. The initial ISP would also have exclusive access to the roughly 17 miles of conduit and fiber—the Bloomington Digital Underground—which has already been constructed by the city.

The agreement has been analyzed by the Indiana Cable & Broadband Association as “unfairly favoring one provider over others,”  which ICBA says conflicts with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. ICBA’s legal objections got no mention during deliberations by Bloomington public officials this week.

Wednesday was the third day in a row that three different public bodies took required steps for the deal to go through. All of the votes were unanimous except for those by the city council. Continue reading “3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam”

Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC

On Tuesday, Bloomington’s economic development commission (EDC) helped a potential deal between Paris-based Meridiam and the city of Bloomington take another step forward.

Under the arrangement, Meridiam would construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service. Meridiam would offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

On a 4–0 vote, the EDC approved a resolution that among other things green-lighted an  expenditure agreement that reimburses to Meridiam 95 percent of the roughly $10.9 million in personal property taxes that Meridiam will pay over a 20-year period.

The personal property taxes would be paid on the company’s conduit and fiber. The mechanism the city is using to reimburse Meridiam’s taxes is a tax increment finance (TIF) allocation area, not a tax abatement, even if the effect is basically the same.

The TIF area is exactly the physical space where the conduit and fiber is installed, which has an appearance that some have characterized as web-like. That’s what gives rise to the moniker “spider TIF.”

For Tuesday’s decision, the five-member EDC was missing Matt Flaherty. He is the city council’s representative on the EDC. But Flaherty will have a say when the city council considers two related questions on Wednesday.

That’s because a third step for the high-speed internet deal is teed up for Bloomington’s city council at its Wednesday meeting. Continue reading “Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC”

One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission

Bloomington plan commission (June 13, 2022)

A deal between a Paris-based infrastructure company and the city of Bloomington, to construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, took a step forward Monday evening.

On a unanimous vote, the city’s plan commission found that an already-approved redevelopment commission (RDC) resolution and its associated economic development plan—on which the Bloomington-Meridiam fiber deal depends—is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

That’s the first of three approvals the city’s administration is hoping to get this week for a tax increment finance (TIF) arrangement, that would see about $10.9 million in personal property taxes reimbursed to Meridiam over a 20-year period. That’s down from the estimated $14.4 million that had been previously negotiated for a 25-year period.

Next up will be an approval from the (economic development commission (EDC)), which the city administration is hoping to get at the EDC’s 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

That could be followed by an approval at this Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Last week, the city’s RDC took the first step towards all the approvals necessary when it passed the required declaratory resolution.

On Monday, the administration’s case for conformity with the city’s comprehensive plan was presented to the plan commission by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. Continue reading “One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission”

Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days

Now pending is a deal between the city of Bloomington and Meridiam, a Paris-based infrastructure company, that would build a fiber-to-the-home network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, reaching at least 85-percent of the city.

The image links to a dynamic map. (UG = underground; AE = aerial)

The city describes the deal in terms of a $50 million investment that Meridiam will make. Meridiam has made the arrangement contingent on a kind of “tax rebate” for the company, amounting to $14.4 million over 20 years.

Meridiam says the creation of the wholesale open-access network—after an initial 5-7 year period of exclusive operation by an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP)—would create about 10 new jobs, with a payroll of about $1.1 million.

Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) got the legal process started last week, when it voted 4-0 to approve a declaratory resolution.

For the deal to go through, three different public bodies will need to give approvals, at three separate meetings, which are set for Monday (plan commission), Tuesday (economic development commission), and Wednesday (city council) of this week.

The final vote, by the RDC, is set for July 5. Continue reading “Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days”

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”