Monroe County turns map blue for COVID cases, but still in yellow advisory

At their regular Wednesday meeting, Monroe County commissioners heard a bit of good news related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

County health administrator Penny Caudill told them the 92 confirmed positive cases for the week ending on Sunday were low enough to put Monroe County in the blue category for the state’s dual-metric classification scheme.

That’s the first time in a couple of months that the county has been blue. Blue designates the best category, which is “low community spread.”

The other metric, besides the number of confirmed cases per 100,000, is positivity rate. Monroe County has consistently scored in the best category for the positivity metric, due in part to the massive amount of mitigation testing that Indiana University has undertaken.

Mitigation testing, of randomly selected people, by its nature will show a lower positivity rate than testing of those who decide they want a test for some reason.

Based on the number of positive cases, Monroe County is still in the next-best category, but when averaged with the score for positivity rate, the county comes out blue.

Caudill also cautioned the commissioners that under the dual-metric color-coded advisory scheme, the county needs to maintain its blue status for two weeks in a row in order to be considered out from under the cautions associated with the yellow rating. Continue reading “Monroe County turns map blue for COVID cases, but still in yellow advisory”

$500K in awards to social services nonprofits recommended by Bloomington committee

On Tuesday evening, members of a committee made up of Bloomington citizens and city councilmembers settled on preliminary awards of $511,000 to 32 different nonprofit organizations.

These are the top 10 agencies recommended to receive Jack Hopkins social services funding in 2021, sorted by award. A complete chart, with project descriptions is included below.

The $511,000 had to be stretched across $546,793 in requests, which had been ratcheted down from the total of $648,197 from 35 organizations.

The $648,197 is in line with the average over the last three years, which has been about $690,000.

Historically, the $5 million in grants that have been made since were made based on $10 million in requests.

The top 10 nonprofits by their recommended allocations were: Hoosier Hills Food Bank ($35,000); New Hope for Families ($35,000); St. Vincent DePaul ($30,000); Tandem Community Birth Center and Postpartum House ($30,000); LIFEDesigns Inc. ($28,676); Community Justice and Mediation Center ($27,424); Beacon Inc. (Shalom Center) ($25,000); Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington ($24,000); My Sister’s Closet of Monroe County ($22,400); and Monroe County United Ministries ($22,000).

Only the 32 groups that were invited a week and a half ago to present their project proposals to the Jack Hopkins social services funding committee were recommended for awards on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s preliminary allocations will be followed by an allocation hearing on May 18, and city council approval of the awards on June 16. Continue reading “$500K in awards to social services nonprofits recommended by Bloomington committee”

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?””

Bloomington preps for annexation restart on May 19, will assume remonstrance waivers voided by state legislature are valid

At a work session held on Friday, Bloomington’s city council got a briefing from mayor John Hamilton’s administration on the restart of an annexation process that was launched in 2017.

Image links to high resolution .pdf file.

The process was stopped that year when the state legislature enacted a law that was found by Indiana’s Supreme Court in late 2020 to be unconstitutional. That cleared the way for Bloomington’s renewed annexation effort.

Friday’s work session provided a couple of newsy bits.

First, based on the work session discussion, Bloomington will be proceeding with the process on the assumption that some remonstrance waivers are still valid, even though they were declared void by a state law enacted by the state legislature in 2019.

The new 2019 law says that a few different categories of annexation waivers are not valid, which means that more property owners would be eligible to remonstrate against a proposed annexation.

At the work session, Bloomington’s corporation counsel Philippa Guthrie said about the remonstrance waivers voided by the state legislature: “They were contracts signed by individuals with the city, in exchange for getting the sewer service. That’s why we provided the service. So we’re proceeding as if they are valid.”

Guthrie confirmed to The Square Beacon, “Yes, we believe all of our waivers are valid.” On Friday, Guthrie did not have a figure for the number of waivers that are involved. Continue reading “Bloomington preps for annexation restart on May 19, will assume remonstrance waivers voided by state legislature are valid”

COVID 19 Update: Local officials say, “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.”

As the prospect of achieving herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus could be waning, according to some experts,  Bloomington and Monroe County area officials are trying to focus on getting local vaccination rates as high as possible.

The confirmed daily positive case numbers in Monroe County have been vacillating over the last couple of weeks in the low to mid-20s without a clear longer-term upward or downward trend. The short-term trend over the last five days is somewhat downward.

Speaking at the regular Friday news conference of local leaders this week, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said, “Even if we don’t make population immunity or herd immunity…maybe the local vaccination numbers just in our area are more important than we may have thought, compared to everything else.”

IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney put it this way: “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.” Continue reading “COVID 19 Update: Local officials say, “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.””

Duplexes get some “guardrails” from Bloomington city council, more could follow

After voting unanimously the previous night to allow duplexes as a conditional use in Bloomington’s central residential districts, on Thursday Bloomington’s city council  added some additional constraints on duplexes.

The “guardrails” that are included in Amendment 03 to Ordinance 21-23 are meant to allay the concern that single-family houses will be bought up by profit-driven developers and rapidly converted to duplexes.

The council’s work on duplex zoning will continue next week.

One feature of Amendment 03 imposes a cap of 15 duplexes per calendar year. An earlier version of the amendment had put the cap at 10.

Another feature of Amendment 03 is a geographic constraint. It adds a requirement that within a 150-foot buffer of a property where a conditional use permit has been issued for a duplex, no additional duplexes will be allowed for two years.

An earlier version of the amendment prohibited additional duplexes within the buffer in perpetuity, not just two years. That change was something that councilmember Matt Flaherty mentioned on Thursday night as helping to persuade him that he could support the amendment.

The tally when the council voted was 7–2 in favor of Amendment 03, with dissent from Steve Volan and Isabel Piedmont-Smith. Continue reading “Duplexes get some “guardrails” from Bloomington city council, more could follow”

On 9–0 vote Bloomington dials down duplexes from permitted to conditional use

Duplexes will not be a permitted (by-right) use in Bloomington’s central residential districts. But they will still be allowed, as a conditional use.

That’s the outcome of Wednesday’s continuation of a city council special session that started on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, councilmembers voted unanimously to amend Ordinance 21-23. As recommended to them by the city’s plan commission, the new law would have established duplexes as permitted (by-right) use in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts.

In the city’s current UDO (unified development ordinance) duplexes are not allowed in those districts.

The 9–0 vote to amend Ordinance 21-23 restored to conditional use the proposed status of duplexes in R1, R2, and R3. That had been the basic recommendation of the city’s planning staff.

The granting of a conditional use permit will require a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals.

On Tuesday, the council had considered an amendment that would have changed the status of duplexes in the R-districts to disallowed, but it failed on a 4–5 tally.

Among Wednesday’s roughly 40 public commenters and councilmembers alike, the conditional use amendment that was approved on Wednesday was generally considered as a kind of compromise position.

But the negotiations on some additional restrictions to Ordinance 21-23 are not yet done.

Based on council deliberations on Wednesday, three additional amendments will be considered, when the same special meeting continues on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

As councilmember Susan Sandberg put it, the additional amendments will add some “teeth” to the restrictions on duplexes in the ordinance. Two of them are already drafted, numbered Amendment 03 and Amendment 04. Continue reading “On 9–0 vote Bloomington dials down duplexes from permitted to conditional use”

Bloomington now wants parking tickets paid before towed cars get returned, residential neighborhood permit failure now subject to fine

People who park their cars in the city of Bloomington can now accumulate two extra unpaid parking tickets before their car gets towed.

But the increase in the towing threshold, from four to six unpaid citations, comes with a tradeoff.

The ordinance requires the car owner to pay off all the unpaid tickets in order to get their car back. The new local law was approved on a unanimous vote by the city council at its regular Wednesday session.

As part of the ordinance, the part of city code covering residential neighborhood parking permits also got some tweaks.

The ordinance adds a $100 fine for using a residential neighborhood parking permit in an unauthorized manner, and a $20 fine for not properly displaying a neighborhood parking permit when parked in a residential neighborhood zone.

The ordinance also allows a residential neighborhood parking permit holder whose permit is stolen to get a replacement at no charge, if they report the theft of the permit to the police.

It was the towing aspect of the new ordinance that drew most of the city council’s attention. Continue reading “Bloomington now wants parking tickets paid before towed cars get returned, residential neighborhood permit failure now subject to fine”

City council: Duplexes won’t be disallowed in Bloomington’s central residential areas

An ordinance that would change Bloomington’s basic law on land use, so that duplexes would be permitted (aka “by right”) in central residential areas, has survived a proposed amendment that would have disallowed duplexes there.

At a special session of the city council on Tuesday, Amendment 01 to Ordinance 21-23 failed on a 4–5 vote. It got support from its sponsors, Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, and Ron Smith, who were joined by Sue Sgambelluri.

Voting against the amendment were Jim Sims, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

The current unified development ordinance (UDO) disallows duplexes in R1 (Residential Large Lot), R2 (Residential Medium Lot), and R3 (Residential Small Lot) districts. The failed amendment would have preserved that state of affairs, where existing duplexes can persist as non-conforming uses, but no new duplexes can be built.

Likely to be considered on Wednesday, when the special session is set to continue at 7:30 p.m., is an amendment to Ordinance 21-23, sponsored by Sims and Piedmont-Smith, that would still allow duplexes in R1, R2, and R3, but only as a conditional use. The granting of a conditional use permit requires a hearing in front of the board of zoning appeals. Continue reading “City council: Duplexes won’t be disallowed in Bloomington’s central residential areas”

Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders

A new law (SEA 05) recently enacted by Indiana’s legislature imposes additional requirements for local health orders to go into effect, if they are more restrictive than an order from the governor.

On Tuesday, governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the law, saying, “I am vetoing SEA 5 because I believe it will… restrict necessary flexibility in the law, and further undermine local responses to future public health emergencies.”

Monroe County’s health regulations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have generally been more restrictive than the governor’s orders, with respect to masking and gathering sizes, among other things.

For example, the current Monroe County health regulations, which are effective through May 28, limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.

So at Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s board of heath, members got a briefing from county attorney Margie Rice on the required steps, if the governor’s veto is overridden, which they are anticipating. Continue reading “Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders”