According to a press released issued Monday afternoon and subsequent clarification from the city, Bloomington’s department of planning and transportation has levied an $83,500 fine against the owners of a house on 7th Street. They demolished the house in late September without first obtaining a certificate of zoning compliance.
On Aug. 8, the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC) recommended the house to the city council for historic designation. The commission’s resolution did not explicitly say that the house was being put under interim protection.
But the requirement of a certificate of zoning compliance before demolition applies to structures whether or not they’re under consideration for historic designation. It was the owners’ request for such a certificate that led to the demolition delay process, which the HPC was following when it made its recommendation for historic designation.
The amount of the fine, according to the press release, was based on a penalty levied for each day the property was in violation of the city code, but capped at the most recent assessed value of the house and garage by Monroe County’s auditor.
Late Monday afternoon, Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, told The Beacon that the property owners, David Holdman and Judie Baker, had filed an appeal of the city’s decision to fine them.
A notice of the violation was sent to Holdman and Judie Baker on Oct. 16, according to the press release. The press release says that the property owners have a right to appeal to the city’s board of zoning appeals within five days of the date of the notice.
Guthrie said the appeal is currently set for the BZA’s next meeting, which is Nov. 21.
Bloomington’s communications director, Yael Ksander, told The Beacon the city’s calculation of the fine was based on Section 20.10.040 of the city code.
Any violation that is subject to this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than two thousand five hundred dollars for each such violation, and not more than seven thousand five hundred dollars for the second and any subsequent violation, in addition to any and all other remedies available to the city, except where a lesser fine is specified herein. …
In addition, if a responsible party commits a second or subsequent violation of the same provision of this title within three years of the first such violation, regardless of whether the second or subsequent violation is on the same property as the first such violation, the listed fine for such second or subsequent offense shall be twice the previous fine, subject to the maximum set forth in subsection (a) above.
The demolition was done around Sept. 26, according to the press release.
Here’s how the fine escalated. The initial fine for the first day, on Sept. 26, was pegged at $500—though it could have been set at $2,500, according to Ksander. Doubling it on successive days led to a $1,000 fine for Sept. 27, then $2,000 for Sept. 28 and $4,000 for Sept. 29.
For Sept. 30, a $7,500 fine was levied, because the $8,000 that would have resulted from doubling the previous day’s fine would have exceeded the $7,500 limit.
The September fines, added to a $7,500-per-day fine starting in October, amounted to more than $83,500 by Oct. 10, at which point the city capped the fine at the assessed value of the improvements on the property. Improvements are the house and garage, not including the land. Online records from Monroe County confirm the value of improvements at $83,500.
The city’s fine is calculated based on the idea that the violation continued without a remedy by the property owner. Getting a certificate of zoning compliance retroactively was not an option, Guthrie told The Beacon. They’d initiated a request of such a certificate and it had been forwarded to the HPC, which had followed the process for a demolition delay.
Asked by The Beacon what remedy the property owner was supposed to undertake, after demolition, Guthrie said it was not clear—because “we’re never getting that building back.” That’s why the city decided to cap the fine at the assessed value of the improvements on the property, Guthrie said. It’s not a legal requirement to cap the fine, she said, but the city is following a basic principle of reasonableness.
A notice of the violation was sent to owners David Holdman and Judie Baker on Oct. 16, according to the press release.
The press release says that the property owners have a right to appeal to the city’s board of zoning appeals within five days of the date of the notice.
The property at 523 W. 7th Street is part of a broader request that Bloomington’s city council will likely be hearing soon—a recommendation by the HPC to establish the Near West Side Conservation District. Based on discussion at the city council’s work session held on Oct. 18, the proposal for the conservation district will be introduced at the city council’s Oct. 30 meeting.
The now-demolished house is in the inventory of properties recommended by the HPC to the council for inclusion in the conservation district.
It was on Sept. 26, the very day when the house at 523 W. 7th Street was reportedly torn down, that the historic preservation commission also met to vote on its recommendation about the Near West Side Conservation District.
The meeting packet for Sept. 26 included the following statement about the proposed conservation district, which in hindsight has to be considered ironic: “For example, 523 W. 7th, one of the only known Central Passage house forms extant in the city, was slated for demolition but was saved by the Historic Preservation Commission.”