New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent

A key stat from a new tree inventory for the city of Bloomington, released on Tuesday, found its way into a list of climate activist demands presented to Mayor John Hamilton on Friday.

The demands were presented to the mayor a little after 3 p.m. by around 400 people who marched from Dunn Meadow, where Bloomington’s Climate Strike activities had started, to city hall. The third point on the list was:

Get the City of Bloomington to 60% Tree Coverage.

Based on a report delivered on Tuesday to Bloomington’s board of park commissioners  by Aren Flint, an urban forester with Davey Resource Group (DRG), the maximum tree canopy that Bloomington could achieve is 61 percent of its 15,000 acres. So the demand is essentially to max out Bloomington’s potential canopy. (The layer of leaves, branches and trunks of trees that block the view of the ground from above is called the “canopy.”)

The climate strikers’ demand noted that Bloomington’s tree canopy now covers just 38 percent of Bloomington’s area. That’s the figure from Tuesday’s new report, which is a 2018 analysis. Continue reading “New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent”

Photos: #ClimateStrike Dunn Meadow, Bloomington, Indiana

A few hundred people piled into Dunn Meadow on the campus of Indiana University on Friday just before noon to join in a global action that’s been organized under the banner of  “climate strike.”  NBC News put the number of people worldwide who joined demonstrations in the “millions.” Here’s some photos from Dunn Meadow today.

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Bloomington city council candidates asked: What are you going to do to combat white supremacy in your support of the arts?

widview group xy try IMG_3410Tuesday night at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, across from the derelict 4th Street parking garage, the audience filled a bit less than half the 132-seat auditorium. The performance was a political one, a two-act play of sorts, directed by Danielle McClelland, on behalf of a new arts group in town, called Arts Forward Bloomington.

Of the seven actors in Tuesday’s 90-minute drama, four are candidates in the two contested races for city council. The other three have their city council races already won, by default, with no opposition. District 2 and District 3 are the only areas of the city where elections will be held on Nov. 5.

Appearing on Tuesday for District 2 were Republican Andrew Guenther and Democrat Sue Sgambelluri. For the District 3 race, Democrat Ron Smith and independent Nick Kappas appeared; independent Marty Spechler did not attend.

McClelland said all candidates, including incumbents for clerk and mayor, were invited.

As executive director of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, McClelland is well-practiced in the duty of introducing a show. She told the audience that candidates would get five minutes each to respond to some questions, which they’d been given ahead of time. That was to be followed by questions from audience members, written on notecards.

Tuesday’s forum did not draw out much in the way of fundamental differences in candidates’ policies on public support of the arts. They all acknowledged the important threads that the arts weave into Bloomington’s social and civic fabric.

Their remarks featured a few mentions of the plan to expand the convention center. An expanded center could be a potential location for public art installations and a performance venue, they said. The night before, elected officials had gathered to meet about the planned convention center expansion—the existing one is a couple of blocks to the west of the Waldron Center.

The only overt politicking from a candidate came in response to the final question of the night on Tuesday, from the audience: What are Arts Forward Bloomington and the city council going to do to specifically to combat white supremacy in their support of the arts?
Continue reading “Bloomington city council candidates asked: What are you going to do to combat white supremacy in your support of the arts?”

Bloomington’s city council OKs bonds for county TIF district roads, different sewer rates for city, non-city customers

The line separating the part of Monroe County that’s inside Bloomington from the part that’s outside the city formed a common thread across three agenda items on the city council’s Wednesday agenda.

The council approved a sewer rate increase for all of Bloomington’s customers. For the first time, the rate is different for customers inside the city limits compared to outside. Customers inside the city limits will see a 3-percent increase, or about 72 cents more per month for an average customer. For an average customer outside the city, the 15-percent increase works out to $3.60 more per month. The differential rate increase passed on an 8–1 vote, with Chris Sturbaum dissenting, based on the differential character of the rates.

City limits also played a role in a revision to the city’s ordinance on sewer connection fees, which was also approved by the council Wednesday night. The point of the revision was to allow the director of utilities to waive connection fees in a couple of basic situations—for a single-family affordable housing project inside the city limits, or for the purpose of disconnecting a property from a septic tank. In the week between the city council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting a week ago, and Wednesday night, the wording was amended to make clear: The septic tank scenario for a waiver is not confined to customers inside the city limits. The council’s vote on the possibility of sewer connection waivers was unanimous, in favor.

Finally, the council approved issuance of $8 million of bonds by the Monroe County’s redevelopment commission, for construction of two new roads outside of town near the western edge. One road will extend Profile Parkway to Gates Drive. The other will extend Sunrise Greeting Court from Vernal Pike down to Gates Drive. The issue was in front of the city council because the county’s TIF district that’s providing the funding includes some land that the city annexed, after the TIF district was established. The council’s vote was unanimous, in favor.

Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council OKs bonds for county TIF district roads, different sewer rates for city, non-city customers”

Monroe Fire Protection District gets OK from county commissioners to add two townships


The unincorporated areas of Bloomington and Van Buren townships will be a part of the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) starting Jan. 1, 2021, about 15 months from now. That’s the result of a unanimous vote by Monroe County’s three commissioners at their regular meeting on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s action by the commissioners included establishing a new, five-member composition of the fire district’s board, starting in 2021. County attorney Jeff Cockerill said at Wednesday’s meeting that it will be the commissioners will appoint fire district board members.

The governing body of the district, which will set the rate of the fire levy, will include one member each from Perry, Clear Creek, Indian Creek, Van Buren, and Bloomington townships.

Among the benefits that have been cited for adding the two townships to the district are: protection of the fire tax levy from annexations by the City of Bloomington; an initial lowering the tax rate for residents of Bloomington Township (but it would increase in the second and third years); administration of county fire departments under one umbrella; and the distribution of expenses over a larger tax base. Continue reading “Monroe Fire Protection District gets OK from county commissioners to add two townships”

City consultant says food and beverage tax could support $42.7M in bonds for convention center expansion, in the range of covering whole cost

At a meeting held Monday night at the Monroe Convention Center, elected officials from Bloomington and Monroe County governments got an analysis of revenue from the countywide food and beverage tax. It’s a one-percent levy that has been collected since February 2018.

Buzz Krohn, of O.W. Krohn and Associates, told the group that the city’s portion of the food and beverage tax would provide roughly $42.7 million of bonding capacity—on the “preferred” option for bonding.

That’s maybe $1.3 million shy of the $44 million needed for the current project to expand and renovate the convention center.

Another $15 million, for a 500–550 space parking garage, is reckoned by the city to be paid for out of tax increment finance (TIF) money, a different revenue stream from the food and beverage tax. Continue reading “City consultant says food and beverage tax could support $42.7M in bonds for convention center expansion, in the range of covering whole cost”

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”

Time and Money: Agenda for Monday’s convention center expansion meeting

Cropped Convention Center Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 7.20.04 PM
Aerial view from the east of Monroe County Convention Center at 3rd Street and College Avenue from the county’s GIS system Pictometry tool

Circulating late last week among area elected officials and community leaders was an agenda for a 5:30 p.m. Monday meeting.

The topic of the meeting is a planned expansion of the convention center located on the southwest corner of 3rd Street and College Avenue in downtown Bloomington.  It’s a topic with a history that’s a couple decades long, maybe longer.

Monday’s meeting includes 20 elected officials representing four entities: Monroe County’s county council, Bloomington’s city council, Monroe County’s board of commissioners, and the mayor of Bloomington.

A single substantive matter dominates the night’s schedule—funding for the expansion of the convention center. The topic of funding is divided into parts: construction and operations.

A steering committee has guided work on the convention center expansion project up to now. Possibly weighing on some minds during Monday’s session will be the words of a design consultant at a May 23, 2019 meeting of the steering committee: “[F]rom inflation alone, every month that we don’t get started on this project is 333 square feet we’re not going to be able to afford to build.”

For construction funding, the agenda gives 10 minutes to the City of Bloomington’s financial advisor and bond counsel, Barnes & Thornburg and Krohn & Associates, to present various funding options.

For operations funding, Monroe County councilor Cheryl Munson, who has served on the expansion project’s steering committee, will have five minutes to present financial information.

The Food & Beverage Tax Advisory Commission voted on Jan. 22 to recommend approval of up to $4 million in expenditures from the tax for convention center expansion architectural fees. The figure is based on 10 percent of construction costs, which would make for a $40-million project.

A vote of the steering committee on May 23 took a 40,000-square foot expansion off the table, leaving in play an option with 30,000 square feet. Described in the slide deck for that meeting was a total cost of the 30,000 square foot proposal, including a parking garage, that came to around $59 million. Continue reading “Time and Money: Agenda for Monday’s convention center expansion meeting”

Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year

The headline for this piece is unlikely to surprise anyone with just a scant knowledge of local Bloomington politics or national election trends.

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Shown are the two districts where Bloomington city elections will be held on Nov. 5 this year, with the names of candidates who will appear on the ballot. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Still, it’s worth adding some precision to some general ideas.  Bloomington’s quadrennial municipal elections—held the year before presidential contests—attract few voters. And those who do vote are older than average.

Based on turnout in past years, I think maybe 1,500 voters will participate in Bloomington’s Nov. 5 elections. That’s about 3 percent of city voters in the registered voter file provided by the Monroe County election supervisor’s office in early July.

Based on participation in past elections, more than half of those 1,500 voters will be older than 60. That’s almost three decades older than the average registered voter in Bloomington.

It’s unfair, of course, to compare an estimated maximum of 1,500 voters this November to the number of registered voters in all of Bloomington. That’s because elections will be held in just two of six city council districts this year. The other four district seats on the city council are uncontested. Also uncontested are races for all city-wide offices—mayor, city clerk and member-at-large city council seats.

Adjusting for just the roughly 16,000 registered voters in District 2 and District 3 combined, an estimated maximum turnout of 1,500 works out to around 9 percent. That doesn’t add up to a point of civic pride.

For District 2, my working estimate for maximum turnout is about 500 voters. I think if one of the two candidates gets more than 250 votes, that will be enough to win the seat. For District 3, I don’t think the turnout will be more than about 1,000 voters. I think if any of the three candidates gets more than 375 votes, that will be enough to win.

For both districts, I think the average age of voters this November will be older than 60.

After the jump, I’ll lay out the numbers behind those estimates. Continue reading “Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year”