On Thursday, Peerless Development received a $500 grant award from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC)—in connection with an engineering study that found the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack to be structurally unsound.
Peerless is currently looking at a cost of around $350,000 to partly demolish the smokestack and another $250,000, which mayor John Hamilton’s administration wants the developer to contribute towards commemorative art for the smokestack.
Compared to the half million dollars in smokestack-related costs Peerless might be facing, the size of the HPC’s grant is small.
But as HPC member Sam DeSollar put it, “I think it’s a goodwill gesture.” Peerless has had to spend “a bucket of money” to figure out how to deal with the smokestack and its unsafe lean, DeSollar said. “I won’t feel guilty about defraying their costs by $500.” He added, “And we’re going to have to work with these folks in the future on what happens with this—so I’m going to support this.”
Schematic of alley vacation request by Peerless Development.
View of parcel from east to west from Monroe County’s online property lookup system.
View of the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack from the east.
At its regular meeting on Wednesday (June 1), Bloomington’s city council postponed a vote on a request from Peerless Development to vacate an east-west alley that cuts across the parcel where the Johnson’s Creamery building sits.
Vacating the alley means ceding to private ownership some land that is now public right-of-way. The vote to postpone a vote until June 15 was unanimous. That’s the last regular meeting before the council’s summer recess.
The alley vacation would be needed in order for Peerless to move ahead with a development on the northern part of the parcel. The housing development is supposed to include 51 apartments right next to the B-Line Trail, off 7th Street. Bloomington’s plan commission approved the site plan for the new development in October 2021.
This photo is from the Arsee Engineers report showing the lean of the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack to the southeast.
Historic district commissioner Reynard Cross at the March 24, 2022 meeting of Bloomington’s historic district preservation commission.
[This article focuses on the procedural issues that have led to the current state of affairs. Namely, neither the Bloomington city council nor the historic preservation commission has taken action, yet.]
If things had unfolded differently on Wednesday, the Bloomington city council could have enacted a historic district for the Johnson’s Creamery building.
And on Thursday, the historic district commission (HPC) could have approved a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of the former creamery’s smokestack down to 60 feet. The current smokestack, which was built in 1949, is now 140 feet tall.
The leaning and deteriorating smokestack is the subject of an unsafe building order issued by the city of Bloomington in late December 2021. The city’s housing and neighborhood development department (HAND) ordered the smokestack repaired within 60 days.
But on Thursday, the HPCs granting of a certificate of appropriateness for partial demolition is not guaranteed. And it would require some coordination with potential city council action on Wednesday.
Before the request for a “certificate of appropriateness” can be granted by the HPC, Bloomington’s city council would need to establish the legal framework for the issuance of such a certificate. That framework would come in the form of a one-building local historic district.
Looking east around 8 a.m. on Jan. 13, 2022 towards the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack.
In a news release issued early Thursday morning, the city of Bloomington announced that it has issued an “Unsafe Building Order to Repair” to the owners of the the old Johnson’s Creamery building on 7th Street, across the B-Line Trail from city hall.
The reason for the unsafe building order, according to Thursday’s news release, is the 140-foot-tall smokestack, which is located on the property. The iconic smokestack has vertical lettering that reads “Johnson’s” on its east side.