Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?

For about five hours on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council considered a proposed law that would prevent the displacement of houseless people from their encampments in city parks, unless certain conditions are met.

Late Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 24, 2021), a couple of tents were set up on the Walnut Street side of Seminary Park. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

One of the alternatives provided in the proposed law is for the city to designate locations on public property with access to bathrooms and within a mile of distribution points for prepared meals.

If the city designated such locations, with adequate space for those experiencing homelessness, then encampments could be displaced from city parks without meeting the conditions.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration is opposed to the ordinance.

The ordinance is a response to a decision by Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

During the meeting, a key question was drawn out by back-and-forth between councilmembers and city department heads: What are a city’s core services? Continue reading “Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?”

Indiana’s highest court says Bloomington did not violate Constitution with Greek house definition

Bloomington and other college towns in Indiana will be able to rely on institutions of higher education to help define what a sorority or fraternity house is.

A unanimous decision issued by Indiana’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a court of appeals ruling that said Bloomington had unconstitutionally delegated its authority to Indiana University to define sororities and fraternities.

The case stemmed from a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals in the summer of 2018. The key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity for purposes of the city’s zoning code? The Supreme Court said yes.

Tuesday’s ruling included decisions on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That answer was also yes. Continue reading “Indiana’s highest court says Bloomington did not violate Constitution with Greek house definition”

Bloomington’s proposed law protecting encampments puts housing first: “We can’t shelter our way out of this problem.”

Set for Wednesday are the first round of the Bloomington city council’s deliberations on a proposed new law that would provide protections to encampments of houseless people in city parks.

File photo of Seminary Park on Jan. 14, 2021, the day of the second park clearance by the city of Bloomington. For the mid-January park clearance, notice was posted as shown in the photo for “on or about” Jan. 11. No postings were made for the early-December clearance. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The council could take a provisional vote, but there won’t be a vote on the question of enactment.

The law was proposed by city council sponsors Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice before a camp displacement. Another requirement is that sufficient alternative housing be available for people living in the encampment.

A common thread in statements made in the past week, by some significant community players who oppose the law, is the idea that it is important to find longer-term solutions to the problems of homelessness.

The ordinance itself includes a longer-term perspective, because under the proposal, the city could not displace a camp unless there is sufficient available “permanent housing” or “transitional housing” as defined by federal HUD regulations.

That means emergency shelter does not count towards sufficient available housing, for the purpose of displacing an encampment.

It’s a point that could see some debate on Wednesday, because it’s seen as a potential argument both for and against the ordinance. Continue reading “Bloomington’s proposed law protecting encampments puts housing first: “We can’t shelter our way out of this problem.””

Proposed ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group

A proposed ordinance on encampments of houseless people in city parks got some scrutiny from Bloomington’s human rights commission at the group’s regular meeting on Monday.

The commissioners voted 3–0 with two abstentions to endorse the proposed ordinance, with some caveats.

The proposed law is set for deliberations on Wednesday by the city council’s committee of the whole. No vote on enactment will be taken at the committee meeting.

The law was proposed by city council sponsors Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice before a camp displacement.

Also under the proposed ordinance, the city could not displace a camp unless there is sufficient available “permanent housing” or “transitional housing” as defined by federal HUD regulations. Emergency shelters would not count towards available housing.

On Monday, commissioners dug a bit into the proposed new law. Continue reading “Proposed ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group”

Bill that would regulate Indiana voting systems to ensure one-person-one-vote not seen as essential this session

As the Indiana General Assembly passes its halfway mark, several bills have not met their required milestones to get further consideration.

One of them was HB 1288, which deals with election security. It was sponsored by Representative Ryan Lauer, a Republican whose District 59 covers most of Bartholomew County, including the city of Columbus.

The bill got a mention at an early-February meeting of Monroe County’s election board, as part of county clerk Nicole Browne’s rundown of pending legislation.  It got a second look, because of its requirement that voting systems store votes “as a whole number, without the use of decimals or fractions.”

Browne told her two colleagues on the three-person board: “I don’t want anybody to be alarmed in Monroe County. We have never reported out our votes in anything but whole numbers.” Browne ventured, “So something’s going on in some other county. And I would not take that as a fire alarm in Monroe County.”

According to Lauer, the motivation behind the bill was not based on an attested problem with vote total reporting in any of Indiana’s counties. Continue reading “Bill that would regulate Indiana voting systems to ensure one-person-one-vote not seen as essential this session”

Downtown Bloomington water main break closes Walnut Street

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At around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, a water main break at 4th and Walnut streets in downtown Bloomington meant that roads were blocked off in both directions.

At the time, city of Bloomington utilities estimated the repair would take at least four hours.

Based on progress at around 8 p.m., CBU crews were going to need more than four hours.

As the repair was being made, the discovery that it was not a broken pipe, but rather a broken valve, was good news. According to CBU spokesperson Holly McLaughlin, a valve is easier to fix.

At one point in the early going, a roughly three-foot geyser was erupting from under the asphalt.

McLaughlin compared Saturday’s break to one on Kirkwood Avenue in summer of 2019, when the water pressure from the burst main popped up some old brick pavers from underneath all the layers of modern road.

According to McLaughlin, the pipe that was affected on Saturday is a 12-inch diameter cast iron pipe, installed in 1973.

According to the CBU press release about the 4th and Walnut water main break, only those addresses that lost water service are under a precautionary “boil water advisory.” Continue reading “Downtown Bloomington water main break closes Walnut Street”

COVID-19 case numbers continue downward trend, vaccinations upward

All the relevant infection numbers for COVID-19 in Monroe County and across the state of Indiana continue their downward trend.

The IU Health and Monroe County vaccination clinics were closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the heavy snowfall, but are making up cancelled appointments.

Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region, said on Friday that IU Health’s hospitals across the state continue to see fewer COVID-19 patients.

Shockney was speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about COVID-19 response. Continue reading “COVID-19 case numbers continue downward trend, vaccinations upward”

Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance

A proposed new Bloomington law that would provide some protections to encampments of houseless people has been referred to the city council’s committee of the whole.

On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.

Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.

The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.

Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

The city council’s public safety standing committee is made up of Piedmont-Smith, Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Jim Sims.

That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.

With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.

The contentious vote on committee referral was consistent with ongoing skirmishes among councilmembers over the creation and use of standing committees. Continue reading “Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance”

Century Village gets rezoned on 7–2 vote as Bloomington city council debates question: Who is saying college students are not people?

A rezoning for a 10-acre parcel of land on the east edge of town, at the intersection of SR-46 (3rd Street) and SR-446, has been approved by Bloomington’s city council.

The council’s approved rezoning, which had been unanimously recommended by the plan commission, changed a planned unit development (PUD) to a mixed-use corridor (MC) district.

It’s the same zoning change recommended as a part of the citywide zone map revision project, which will land in front of the plan commission in early March. So the council’s approval on Wednesday could be analyzed as enacting something a few months earlier than might have been enacted anyway.

The impact of the zoning decision is that any proposal for a specific project that conforms with MC zoning, will be reviewed only by the plan commission, not by the city council.

Dissenting were Dave Rollo and Kate Rosenbarger.

Continue reading “Century Village gets rezoned on 7–2 vote as Bloomington city council debates question: Who is saying college students are not people?”

Approaching $600K: Monroe County’s federal grant relief awards to local businesses, nonprofits

At its regular Wednesday meeting, Monroe County’s three-member board of commissioners approved four more federal COVID-19 pandemic relief grants to area businesses or nonprofits. That ratcheted the total amount awarded towards $600,000.

This is a partial list of businesses, nonprofits and taxing units that have received reimbursement pandemic relief grants through Monroe County government, sorted by grant amounts. A complete table is include below.

The money that Monroe County has been distributing to businesses and government entities comes from a total $4.7 million CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act allocation to the county.

On Wednesday, Monroe County’s financial director, Brianne Gregory, gave commissioners a quick briefing on the four grants they were asked to approve that morning, which totaled $62,028.

The grants went to Cave Group, Inc., Boys and Girls Club, Bluebird Live, Inc., and Life Designs, Inc.

That brings the total amount awarded to $593,306.

Board of commissioners president Julie Thomas said the application deadline for the grants has been extended to April 30. The county has set up a web page with a form for applicants to fill out.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Thomas sketched out the basic criteria for award of the funds: They are to reimburse non-payroll pandemic-related expenses that haven’t been covered by some other program. Continue reading “Approaching $600K: Monroe County’s federal grant relief awards to local businesses, nonprofits”