Bloomington to seek plan commission OK for parking garage design without extra land

cropped 2020-02-17 parking garage IMG_7310
The view eastward along 4th Street from the northwest corner of the lot where the 4th Street parking garage previously stood. Feb. 17, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Bloomington is still reserving the right to appeal its unsuccessful eminent domain action to acquire additional land to replace the 352-space parking garage that stood downtown at the corner of 4th and Walnut streets.

But in three weeks, at the plan commission’s regular monthly meeting on March 9, Bloomington will present a design for a replacement garage that does not include the additional land, according to a news release issued by the city late Monday.

The city had sought to acquire the additional land through an eminent domain process, after owner Juan Carlos Carrasquel declined to sell it. Carrasquel operates his JuanSells.com real estate business out of the building, located on the south end of the block of Walnut Street, between 4th and 3rd Streets.

If the city were to win approval of the revised design from the plan commission in March and start construction immediately, a new garage could be done as early as March 2021, based on the 12-month construction period the city is estimating. That would make more than two years that the block has been unavailable for parking.

The parking garage was closed at the end of 2018, due to an engineer’s assessment that the garage was failing structurally, and needed either repair or replacement.

The design proposed to the city’s plan commission last July, on the larger footprint, called for a six-story garage with 510 parking spaces and roughly 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.

It was the commercial space on which the eminent domain action foundered, when in late December, Monroe County circuit court judge Holly Harvey agreed with Carrasquel’s argument that the ground-floor commercial space disqualified the city’s attempted taking, because it was not consistent with the required public purpose.

Harvey also agreed with Carrasquel’s subsequent argument that Bloomington should not be able to amend its eminent domain case with a parking garage design that excluded the commercial space on the ground floor, but still used the extra land.

Monday’s announcement from the city, that a new design would be put in front of the plan commission on March 9, indicates the design details will be posted on the city’s website later this week.

The city’s announcement says that the ground floor will include public or commercial space on the ground floor, as well as other features. If the city is confining the design to the land it already owns, there would be no reason, based on eminent domain considerations, to eliminate the commercial space.

The city’s announcement pegs the number of parking spaces as “at least 500,” which is in the same ballpark as the 510 spaces proposed in the earlier design. To preserve roughly same number of parking spaces as originally planned, confined to a smaller footprint, the structure would likely need to go higher than the original six stories.

The original design was almost 76 feet tall, according to the plan commission information packet for its July 2019 meeting.  That would have required a waiver from the plan commission, because of the 40-foot height limit for the downtown core overlay where the parking garage site is located.

But not every part of the originally proposed structure was 76 feet tall. The southeast corner of the building measured 65 feet tall and the northeast corner measured about 61 feet tall, according to the plan commission information packet.

If an additional story were added, to achieve the same number of parking spaces, the city could be asking for waiver to build a parking garage that is in some places more than twice as tall as the 40-foot height limit in that area of the downtown.

In the eminent domain lawsuit, the two sides are still sorting out how much the city might have to pay in legal fees. Carrasquel’s attorneys are asking for more than $64,000 in reimbursement. A hearing on the fees is scheduled for March 9, the same day as the plan commission’s hearing on the revised parking garage site plan.

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