77 more Bloomington bedrooms: Johnson Creamery downtown residential project gets plan commission OK

Looking west? Johnson Creamery Rendering
Rendering of project with view to the west. The B-Line Trail is in the foreground.

A new mixed-use building just off the B-Line Trail to the north of the Johnson Creamery building—with its landmark smokestack—got a 9–0 approval from Bloomington’s plan commission Monday night.

The five-story building will include 27 studio, 22 one-bedroom, 5 two-bedroom, and 6 three-bedroom apartments for a total of 77 bedrooms.

The interior parking area for the project will include 38 spaces.

The height of the building and the number of parking spaces per apartment both reflect departures from the standard zoning requirements for the area.

But neither the taller height nor the reduced parking need waivers. That’s  because both departures from basic requirements are included as incentives in the core downtown character overlay DCO district, where the new building will be located.

Ordinarily the maximum height in the DCO is 4 stories, and not greater than 50 feet. But the proposed building has an extra story and an extra 10 feet. How?

The new unified development ordinance, approved by Bloomington’s city council last year and ratified by the plan commission early this year, includes certain sustainable development incentives [Section 20.04.110(d)].  Meeting conditions listed out in the incentives allows for one additional story and up to 12 more feet.

To meet the conditions set forth in the sustainable development incentives, the project includes: light-colored hardscaping, covered parking; cool or vegetated roof, and solar energy.

The solar energy panels will be installed along the north-facing slanted saw-tooth elements of the roof, which echo the kind of modulation of other buildings in the area, including city hall.

The project’s 36 planned parking spaces fall 20 spaces short of the required number based on the number of apartments in the building. That’s made possible by a different set of incentives. The Bloomington Transit bus stop at 7th and Morton street, which is within a quarter mile of the building gets the project a 15-percent reduction. That accounts for 8 of the 20 spaces.

The remaining 12 spaces come from a parking study the developer conducted, which includes the impact of three parking spaces in the interior parking area, which will be allotted to a car-sharing company, like Zipcar. A contract with a car-sharing company for three spaces is one of the conditions on the approval granted to the site plan by the plan commission.

A representative of the project said that it’s possible that a car-share space could be offered outside the building, in the alley just to the north of the existing Johnson Creamery building. That would make it accessible to any member of the public who is also a member of the car-share company, not just to tenants of the building.

Monroe County property records show that the Johnson Creamery building and the parking lot to the north was sold to 400 W 7th LLC in November of 2019 for $3.445 million. At Monday’s plan commission, Michael Cordaro, with Peerless Development spoke on behalf of the project, which is being designed by Ratio Architects out of Indianapolis with engineering by Smith Brehob & Associates in Bloomington.

The building includes 2,600 square feet of retail space along the B-Line trail, but is not required to include ground-floor nonresidential uses. That’s a memorable requirement that factored into the city’s recent unsuccessful eminent domain action related to the replacement 4th Street parking garage.

This project escapes that requirement because it applies only to buildings that have frontage along certain streets, among them 7th Street. The new building is to the north of the Johnson Creamery building, and has no frontage on 7th Street.

Because the proposed new building is behind the existing historic building and not beside it, the project did not need to undergo review by the historic preservation commission (HPC). Eric Greulich, senior zoning planner for Bloomington, said on Monday night the project was not put in front of the HPC for a courtesy review as projects sometimes are.

During public commentary time Greg Alexander said the area was well-equipped for sidewalks, but pointed out that the city hall parking lot is the natural pedestrian access from the building to the east, and that means navigating 100 feet “cross country” across the parking lot. That is, there’s no marked walkways across that expanse of asphalt.

Jim Shelton spoke on behalf of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, which was previously housed in the existing Johnson Creamery building. He wondered how stormwater would be handled—as heavy rains meant a lot of water running through the existing parking lot where the new building is planned.

A representative of the developer responded to Shelton’s question by saying that the culvert that runs under the lot would be sized in consultation with the city of Bloomington utilities department.

In other business on Monday night, the plan commission unanimously approved a 5-story, two-building project at 3rd and Grant streets from the Annex Group (previously Annex Student Living) with 110 total bedrooms. The Square Beacon might be able to report separately on the Annex Group’s proposal.

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