Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward

Set for Thursday night in Bloomington’s city council chambers is the third in a series of meetings between city and county elected officials about the planned expansion of the county convention center.

short letter Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 12.38.43 AMA short letter from the three Monroe County commissioners, sent Wednesday to Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, will help now set the mood for  Thursday’s meeting.

The single sentence in the letter, which dispenses with salutation and closing, runs 27 words:

The only way we will consider moving forward with the Convention Center Project is with the County having an equal representation of membership on the oversight board.

The project is an expanded 30,000-square-foot exhibit space with a 550-space parking garage. It’s estimated to cost $59 million, of which about $15 million is for a parking garage.

In previous written and oral exchanges, it has been evident that representation in the governing entity—whether it’s a building corporation, a capital improvement board, or a 501(c)(3)—is a point of acute disagreement between county commissioners and Mayor Hamilton.

For a seven-member capital improvement board, commissioners have proposed either a 4–3 or a 3-4 split. Hamilton has countered by saying that he thinks 6–1 or 5-2 in the city’s favor would reflect better the city’s financial contribution to the project.

Based on Wednesday’s one-sentence letter, commissioners are not willing to negotiate the point. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward”

Monroe County chooses Hart Intercivic for voting equipment purchase

At the work session following their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners confirmed a choice of vendor for some new election equipment: Hart Intercivic, out of Austin, Texas.

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Monroe County attorney, Jeff Cockerill, opens RFP submissions for election equipment at the county board of commissioners meeting on Oct. 23, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The other competing vendor was Election Systems & Software (ES&S), out of Omaha, Nebraska.

Based on the recommendation of a seven-person committee, the three commissioners voted to direct their attorney, Jeff Cockerill, to initiate discussions on writing a contract to purchase the equipment from Hart.

The base cost proposal from Hart was $837,411, which is less than the estimated figure of $1 million the county has been using for the project. Continue reading “Monroe County chooses Hart Intercivic for voting equipment purchase”

UDO update: Parliamentary prickliness as Bloomington stands pat on parking minimums

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s city council dispatched about a dozen amendments to its draft unified development ordinance, setting itself up for a realistic shot at handling all the amendments released so far by the end of its Wednesday session.

[For a linked list of all those amendments see The Beacon’s previous coverage.]

Several amendments were adopted by unanimous votes, including one that removes an option for payment-in-lieu of providing income-restricted housing onsite, as part of the public benefit for a planned unit development.

The idea is that developers should incorporate affordable housing into a project, instead of donating a sum to the city’s housing development fund, which the city could then use to build affordable housing elsewhere.

Rejected with support only from its sponsor, councilmember Chris Sturbaum, was an amendment that would have required new buildings to “step back” not just from those with ratings of “outstanding” and “notable,” but also those with ratings of “contributing.”

The most contentious issue of the night was one involving a pair of conflicting amendments on parking minimums, the first sponsored by Sturbaum and the second by councilmember Steve Volan.

Neither amendment passed. Volan’s amendment might have had a chance if the council had been at its full complement of nine members, but failed on a 4–4 tie.

A procedural quarrel over parliamentary matters stemming from the tie vote did not result in a changed outcome. Continue reading “UDO update: Parliamentary prickliness as Bloomington stands pat on parking minimums”

Uncertain future for Bloomington farmers market, still no decision on charges against protestors

At Monday’s meeting of the farmers market advisory council, held in Bloomington’s city council chambers, few answers about the future of the market could be gleaned from the group’s discussion. That’s partly because the group’s role is just advisory, to the city’s four-member board of park commissioners.

Department administrator for the parks and recreation department, Paula McDevitt, told the advisory council “[W]e do not have an announcement tonight about the future of the market…”

What makes the future uncertain has been a season of protests against a vendor with alignment to white-supremacist groups. The market was  suspended for two weeks in late July amid concerns about possible violence.

At Monday’s meeting, the market’s coordinator, Marcia Veldman, said attendance was off by about half compared to previous years. The last couple of years, the market has seen around a quarter million visitors in the course of a season, according to the city of Bloomington’s data portal.

For several vendors, the timeframe for making a decision about whether sell at the market next year is short. Rebecca Vadas is a honey vendor who also sits on the farmers market advisory council. She said at Monday’s meeting that she had to make a decision by mid-December. One of the decisions she has to make is how many bees to buy. “We’re all at a crossroads,” she said.

Bruce McCallister, who chaired Monday’s meeting, said after meeting with vendors and listening to them, “My takeaway was there are a lot of people really hurting [financially and personally] from this season and a sense of urgency to try and address that before next year.” Continue reading “Uncertain future for Bloomington farmers market, still no decision on charges against protestors”

Sidewalk committee climbing a $17M mountain with $300K annual steps: Half-century until summit

On Monday at noon, Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee met for the second time in the last couple weeks, to sort through 62 proposed new sidewalk construction projects for 2020.

Council Sidewalk Map UpdatedThis year, the four-member group has $324,000 to allocate towards the projects, one of which, along Dunn Street, has been on the list for two decades, since 2001.

This year’s total of $324,000 reflects an increasing trend. Over the last 10 years, the council has averaged around $280,000 per year in approvals, with the last six years right around $300,000 or slightly higher.

The money comes from the city’s alternative transportation fund (ATF), which was established in 1992 as part of the same ordinance that created the residential neighborhood parking permit program.

According to the residential neighborhood parking permit ordinance, “funds received in excess of the annual cost of operating the program shall go into an Alternative Transportation Fund.” Expenditures from the fund are supposed to be for the purpose of “reducing our community’s dependence upon the automobile.” Continue reading “Sidewalk committee climbing a $17M mountain with $300K annual steps: Half-century until summit”

Plenty more first round UDO amendments: Payment in lieu, parking minimums, projecting signs, partial demolition, and more

Banner Plain Sign Photo Ams-10-39-City_Council-20191120-Packet copy
This is a cropped image from a photo in the information packet for the Tuesday (Nov. 19) and Wednesday (Nov. 20) sessions of the Bloomington city council. An amendment to the UDO to allow signs like these, from circa 1963, on the east side of the courthouse square, is one of 33 amendments on the agenda, with more to come.

Bloomington’s city council used two sessions last week to debate and vote on some amendments to the unified development ordinance that directly dealt with density.

Key outcomes were the outright prohibition of duplexes and triplexes from core neighborhoods and the elimination of the conditional use public process for accessory dwelling units.

The council is nowhere near finished with amendments to the UDO. Two sessions are scheduled this week, for Tuesday and Wednesday. The sole focus of the council’s work for those two days will be on the UDO. Continue reading “Plenty more first round UDO amendments: Payment in lieu, parking minimums, projecting signs, partial demolition, and more”

Oral Arguments in front of Supreme Court scheduled for Bloomington’s lawsuit over annexation law: Jan. 9, 2020

Oral arguments have now been scheduled by Indiana’s Supreme Court in the lawsuit that Bloomington filed against Gov. Eric Holcomb in May 2017.

cropped seal of Supreme Court Screen Shot 2019-11-15 at 10.26.29 AM

Th case stems from a law enacted by the state legislature that year, which effectively ended Bloomington’s annexation process that was underway.

Each side will have a chance to argue in front of the state’s highest court on Jan. 9 next year.

The state legislature incorporated a law on annexation into its biennial budget bill for 2017, which effectively ended the process Bloomington was working through at the time to add geographic area to the city.

In May 2017, Bloomington filed suit challenging the law on two separate constitutional grounds—that it violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule, and that it violated the constitutional provision against impermissible specific legislation.

The Monroe County circuit court’s ruling, made in April of this year, was in favor of Bloomington on both of its arguments. The state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. Final briefs were filed with the Supreme Court at the end of September.

Neither the city nor the state filed a motion asking for oral arguments to be held. But the Supreme Court’s order, signed by its chief justice, Loretta Rush on Nov. 13, states, “The Court has determined the above-captioned case merits oral argument.”

The total time allotted for arguments in front of the five-member Supreme Court is 40 minutes, to be divided equally at 20 minutes a side. The location of the arguments will be in the Supreme Court’s chambers at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The appointed hour is 9 a.m.

[Previous coverage by The Beacon on Bloomington v. Holcomb ]

UDO update: Plexes banned in core neighborhoods, ADUs allowed by right

Thursday night was the second session of the Bloomington city council’s ongoing consideration of amendments to the city’s update of the unified development ordinance.

The council voted on two amendments, approving both. One was co-sponsored by councilmembers Dave Rollo and Chris Sturbaum. It eliminated duplexes and triplexes as possible uses of land in core neighborhoods. The tally was 6–2 on the nine-member council. Allison Chopra was absent.

The other amendment approved by the council on Thursday changed the status of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from a conditional use, which requires a public review process, to a by-right use. A by-right use eliminates the public review process, but does not eliminate use-specific standards.

For ADUs, the use-specific standards include: a limit of one ADU per lot; a requirement that only lots greater than the minimum size for the zoning district are allowed to have an ADU; a maximum of two bedrooms; and a limit of one family. The vote that made ADUs by-right was 5–3.

Two meeting moments stood out as somewhat suspense-filled, before a councilmember revealed their final position. Continue reading “UDO update: Plexes banned in core neighborhoods, ADUs allowed by right”

By one-vote margin: Peter Iversen chosen to fill Monroe County’s council vacancy left by Shelli Yoder

On Thursday night, a caucus of the Monroe County Democratic Party (MCDP) chose Peter Iversen over Richard Martin to fill the vacancy left when Shelli Yoder resigned her District 1 seat on the county council, effective Nov. 1. Yoder served through the end of October.

Iversen prevailed by a 7–6 margin among the 13 precinct chairs from District 1 who attended the caucus. District 1 covers the eastern third of the county. Voting was by secret ballot.

Right after his winning tally was announced, Iversen was sworn into office by Monroe County’s clerk, Nicole Browne. Continue reading “By one-vote margin: Peter Iversen chosen to fill Monroe County’s council vacancy left by Shelli Yoder”

Police union votes to accept Bloomington offer, city council consideration not yet scheduled

Bloomington police officers have voted, albeit reluctantly, to accept the city’s most recent contract offer, according to the president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Paul Post.

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A close-up of  a BPD officer’s uniform at the Nov. 14, 2019 meeting of the Bloomington city council.  Under city code, the  police chief, or their designee, is the sergeant of arms at the city council, so an officer is always assigned to meetings. (Dave Askins/Beacon) 

Police officers have been working during 2019 under an “evergreen” clause of their contract, which expired at the end of 2018.

Post told The Beacon that the voting by the union membership was concluded. An official acceptance of the city’s proposal was sent on Thursday, Post said.

The latest city offer was conveyed at an Oct. 24 meeting. According to Post, both the mediator and the union’s legal counsel had recommended that the union membership vote yes.

Without an agreement before the end of the year, Bloomington police officers would start 2020 without a contract. Post said that union members did not want to lose the protections of a contract. Continue reading “Police union votes to accept Bloomington offer, city council consideration not yet scheduled”