Bloomington’s plan commission gave approvals to two significant petitions at its Monday night meeting.
The first was a request to rezone about 12.5 acres just east of RCA Community Park, as part of a planned unit development (PUD), so that 70 single-family homes can be built there. As a rezoning, the PUD will now be considered by Bloomington’s city council.
The second petition was the final plan approval of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project proposed by Trinitas Development, for 39 acres nestled in the southeast corner of the I-69 and SR 45/46 interchange. The plan commission had previously recommended approval of the project’s rezoning. Bloomington’s city council agreed, on a unanimous vote in early March.
Monday’s meeting was Chris Cockerham’s first as plan commissioner since receiving an appointment from the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, to replace Nick Kappas, who served through the end of 2019, but was not re-appointed.
The fact that Cockerham’s seat is still disputed was evident from the message conveyed on Monday during the plan commission’s meeting by Andrew Guenther, using the chat feature of the Zoom videoconference platform, on which the meeting was conducted.
“On April 16th, 2020, in accordance with IC 36-1-8-10, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis appointed me, Andrew Guenther, to the Bloomington Plan Commission,” Guenther wrote.
Guenther added, “Mr. Ellis and I make a final request today that Planning & Transportation, as well as the Plan Commission, deny Mr. Cockerham’s appointment and recognize myself, Andrew Guenther, as the legal and rightful appointee to the Bloomington Plan Commission.”
A lawsuit over the appointment could be filed as soon as Tuesday.
Habitat for Humanity PUD
The proposal from Habitat for Humanity was in front of the plan commission for a rezoning—to change the basic zoning of the property from R2 to a modified version of R4. The reason for the zoning request was based on the small lot sizes that Habitat wants to use for the development, which are between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet. The minimum lot size for an R2-zoned lot is 7,200 square feet. The minimum for R4 is 4,000 square feet.
The relatively high density was a positive attribute of the proposal as presented in the staff report. So was the amount of connectivity. A multi-use path runs east-west through the site, connecting the neighborhood to RCA Community Park. An electric line corridor on the north side of site—from Weimer Road to Rogers Street—aligns with the west entrance of the Switchyard Park. The corridor has been identified by the city’s parks and recreation department as an ideal location for a path connecting the Clear Creek Trail with Switchyard Park’s west entrance.
According to the staff report, among the city’s goals that the project would help to achieve are: owner-occupied housing near a major employment center; housing near community parks; and family housing near other existing single-family housing.
Neighbors of the project raised concerns about increased traffic. They said it’s not just annoyance at the delay in turning onto Rogers from Cherokee Drive, but also the danger it poses. The increased number of residents because of the increased density was cited by neighbors as potentially exacerbating the activities at the park after dark. Those activities were described as “shady” and “unsavory.”
Countering that idea that more people would mean more unsavory activity were planning staff and Habitat for Humanity project supervisor Nathan Ferreira, who said they thought more eyes on the park would decrease such activity.
Plan commissioner Susan Sandberg said she was in support of the project at first glance but, upon hearing the comments from neighbors, thought they added a “richness to the conversation.” It was not enough to cause Sandberg to withhold a vote of support to send the PUD straight to the city council, on which she serves as an at-large representative.
The plan commission had the option to hold the PUD for a second hearing, but voted unanimously to recommend approval to the city council after one hearing.
Sandberg said that Habitat’s model—which requires future owners to be identified before building starts—meant that the 70 houses would not be built quickly. So the increased density would happen gradually and people would be able to adjust, she said.
The Trinitas project is a roughly 1,000-bedroom project. The 337 multi-family dwelling units will have a total of 825 bedrooms. Trinitas is donating 45-single family lots to the city, which could push the number of total bedrooms towards 1,000 depending on how big the houses are.
The project is proposed to have a total of 458 parking spaces: 125 on-street parking spaces; 82 spaces in a garage; and 251 surface parking spaces. About 13.89 acres of the site will also be set aside in a conservation easement. Access to the site will come from the two approved connections. One is to 17th Street to the south and a the other connection to Arlington Road to the east.
The proposed final plan did not change from the approved preliminary plan, so it got little deliberation before receiving a unanimous vote of support from plan commissioners.
Who’s on plan commission?
On Monday, Bloomington’s plan commission was different from the way it looked the last time it met. One new face was Chris Cockerham’s.
The controversy over the rightful occupant of the seat occupied by Cockerham on Monday, which was previously held by Nick Kappas, emerged when Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton delayed in making an appointment to replace Kappas.
Kappas was not affiliated with any political party, under the definition of party affiliation in state law.
Under the state statute there is a provision outlining how the county chair of a political party has the right to make the appointment, instead of the mayor.
That’s the statutory provision that Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis invoked when he announced in mid-April that he was appointing Guenther. The city of Bloomington disputes the applicability of the statute in this instance.
Guenther’s complete statement, transmitted in the Zoom Chat window, reads as follows:
From Andrew Guenther to Everyone: (5:35 PM)
My name is Andrew Guenther. On April 16th, 2020, in accordance with IC 36-1-8-10, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis appointed me, Andrew Guenther, to the Bloomington Plan Commission. Mayor Hamilton lost the appointment powers when he allowed the seat to remain vacant for more than 90 days. Under Indiana Code, the appointment then reverts to the minority political party chairperson, in this case Mr. Ellis.
Mayor Hamilton has chosen to ignore my appointment and instead appointed Mr. Chris Cockerham. Mr. Ellis and I make a final request today that Planning & Transportation, as well as the Plan Commission, deny Mr. Cockerham’s appointment and recognize myself, Andrew Guenther, as the legal and rightful appointee to the Bloomington Plan Commission. We condemn all proceedings that take place with an illegal member of the Bloomington Plan Commission.
On Monday, the composition of the plan commission had changed in another way, since the last time it met. Senior project engineer in planning and transportation, Neil Kopper, is back serving again, after serving several months last year. Under state law, the city engineer serves on the plan commission. Kopper was subbing in last year, because the city engineer’s job was vacant at the time. It’s now vacant again.
When Craig Shonkwiler was hired as Bloomington’s city engineer in November last year, that meant Shonkwiler filled the plan commission seat.
But according to Shonkwiler’s Linkedin profile, last month he took the city engineer job in a different Bloomington, the one in Illinois. So it looks like Kopper will again serve on the plan commission, until the city engineer’s job can be filled.