Key topics for District 3 city council race forum: convention center, transportation

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From left, Bloomington  District 3 city council candidates: Ron Smith, Nick Kappas and Marty Spechler. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

At a forum held on Wednesday night for Bloomington city council candidates in District 3, an audience of around a dozen Bell Trace residents heard from the three candidates who are on this year’s ballot: Nick Kappas (independent), Ron Smith (Democrat), and Marty Spechler (independent).

Bell Trace is a senior living community on the city’s east side. Residents had questions about two specific topics: transportation and a planned convention center expansion downtown.

The timing for those topics squares up with a couple of public meetings planned before the end of the month, on Oct. 29. One is the kickoff to a series of meetings hosted by Bloomington Transit about a proposed new route configuration, which has been studied for more than a year.

Another meeting set for Oct. 29 is a joint meeting of the city council and the county council about the plans for the expanded convention center.

All three candidates expressed support for the convention center expansion. Mayor John Hamilton, who was having dinner at Bell Trace with his mother-in-law, dropped by the forum to express his support for fellow Democratic Party primary winner Ron Smith. Hamilton was also asked about the convention center. He said he was “a little worried” about it, but was confident that it would move forward. Continue reading “Key topics for District 3 city council race forum: convention center, transportation”

Bloomington’s city council OKs 2020 budget, declines to set pay for police, cites ongoing labor talks

On Thursday night, Bloomington’s city council approved just five of the six items on its agenda that make up the legislative package covering the roughly $170 million budget for 2020.Single Bar Barchart of City Budget

The one item that didn’t get approved was the salary ordinance that sets police and fire salaries—they’re part of the same ordinance. It was put off, with a motion to table, which passed 9–0 on the nine-member council.

The decision to table the question appeared to be based on a hope for some kind of breakthrough in collective bargaining negotiations between the city and the police union.

A meeting with the city, the police union and a mediator, is scheduled for Oct. 24. The talks, which started with four meetings in 2018, did not conclude with an agreement by the end of that year, which was the end of the contract. So Bloomington police have been working thorough 2019 under a so-called “evergreen” clause.

Councilmembers also got clarification Thursday night that the proposed salary ordinance for 2020 means police would paid the same next year as they were in 2018. “It doesn’t appear that anyone wants that,” councilmember Steve Volan said.

Two factors seemed to give councilmembers the comfort they needed to entertain the idea of putting off a vote on the police and fire salaries.

They learned Monday night from council attorney/administrator Dan Sherman that they did not need to pass the salary ordinance by Nov. 1—which is the deadline for passing tax rates and appropriations. They also learned from controller Jeff Underwood that he had authority to pay firefighters and police through the end of 2019, based on the current salary ordinance.

The council will need find time to approve a new salary ordinance by the end of the year if police and firefighters are going to get paid in 2020. That will mean fitting it into a schedule packed from now until the end of the year with hearings and deliberations on the updated Unified Development Ordinance. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council OKs 2020 budget, declines to set pay for police, cites ongoing labor talks”

Election board OKs final prep for reduced November elections: “I … recommend that we charge both parties with letting their voters know.”

Carolyn VanddeWiele, a Democrat who chairs Monroe County’s three-member election board, led the group at its meeting last Thursday through its routine final preparations for the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

Part of that prep included some announcements of key dates. Oct. 7 is the last day to register to vote in Bloomington municipal elections. And the first day for early voting is Oct. 21.

Both main items on the agenda reflected the fact that this year’s municipal elections in Bloomington will be held in just two out of the city’s council districts—District 2 and District 3.

One agenda item, approval of the official legal notice, called out District 2 and District 3 as the only districts where elections will be held. That’s because of an election board decision made at its Aug. 1 meeting. The board based its decision on the fact that the city-wide races for mayor, clerk and councilmember at large, are all uncontested—a situation that’s unprecedented in Bloomington—and the races in the other four districts are uncontested. Continue reading “Election board OKs final prep for reduced November elections: “I … recommend that we charge both parties with letting their voters know.””

Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end

Bloomington’s city council made some progress on Wednesday night towards setting its schedule for hearing, amending and adopting an updated unified development ordinance. cropped udo schedule calendar-4159913_1280The sometimes tedious character of the half-hour discussion on scheduling was summed up by the council’s attorney/administrator Dan Sherman, when he said to the council, “Thank you for entertaining that can of worms!”

One basic feature of the schedule was already known, based on discussion at a work session last Friday: Hearings on revisions to the city’s basic land use document will start on Oct. 16, which is a Wednesday, the usual day for council meetings.

But the start time for Wednesday’s event will be different from regular meetings. It will be called to order at 6 p.m. And it won’t go past 10 p.m.—unless the council votes at the meeting to extend the time, based on how things unfold at the meeting.

The 6 p.m. start time is common to all of the scheduled UDO hearing dates, except for one. How long the other meetings will last, time limits for public speaking turns and time limits for councilmember questions and comments will be decided at the Oct. 16 meeting.

On Wednesday, the council voted to adopt a schedule featuring a dozen dates for work on the UDO update. The first four meetings are devoted to presentation of parts of the updated UDO and public commentary. That is, no amendments will be considered at the first four hearings.

Preliminary UDO hearing schedule

Oct. 16 Chapter 1, Chapter 2, structuring debate
Oct. 22 Chapter 3
Oct. 23 Chapter 4, Chapter 5
Oct. 30 Chapter 6, Chapter 7, consideration of written objections
Nov. 13 Consideration of amendments non-UDO business?
Nov. 14 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 19 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 20 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 04 [6:30 p.m.] Announcement of further UDO consideration? non-UDO business?
Dec. 10 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 11 non-UDO business?
Dec. 12 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 17 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 18 Further consideration of written objections; FINAL ACTION

The schedule is subject to revision by vote of the council. The public can monitor a separate web page set up on the city’s website for scheduling information. Continue reading “Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end”

Historic house teardown technicalities could add fuel to upcoming UDO debate

The demolition late last week of the house at 523 W. 7th Street was initially analyzed as a flagrant flouting of Bloomington’s due process  for assigning historic designation to a property. That’s because the city’s historic preservation commission passed a resolution on Aug 8, recommending to the city council that it vote to designate the house as a separate historic district.

Conor Herterich, the city’s historic preservation program manager, told The Beacon on Monday that the demolition violated the property’s interim protection against demolition—a protection provided by the commission’s resolution.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, however, it appears that the commission’s resolution, initially believed by city officials to have given the house interim protection, was not worded so that the intended protection was given. The meeting minutes from the Aug. 8 meeting say: “…the HPC recommends its historic designation under Title 8 of the BMC to the Common Council with the attached map.” There doesn’t appear to have been any explicit mention of “interim protection.”

Based on information from a source with the city, there’s been an preliminary conclusion by city staff that the property owners did not flout any interim protection, because the wording of the resolution didn’t explicitly mention “interim protection.” According to the source, there’s a second technicality that’s apparently in favor of the property owner, David Holdman. The second technical glitch is the city’s possible failure to give Holdman proper notice of the HPC’s finding and recommendation. Continue reading “Historic house teardown technicalities could add fuel to upcoming UDO debate”

Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks

Policies on the temporary storage of vehicles inside Bloomington’s city limits, aka “parking,” are key to retaining residents and businesses downtown, as well as the success of cultural events downtown, like this past weekend’s Lotus Festival. Parking as a policy issue reaches into the leafy neighborhoods, outside of downtown.

Late last year and earlier this spring, business owners raised the specter of relocating out of downtown, if their employee parking would be contingent on a quarterly engineering inspection of a repaired 4th Street structure. That led to the reversal of the city council’s initial decision to repair, not rebuild, the 4th Street parking garage. Demolition of the structure started in earnest his past week.

Part of what makes Lotus Festival possible is the reservation of hundreds of parking spaces with bright orange signs marking each space, indicating when motorists are not allowed to park there. They cost $20 apiece plus $10 for administration.

Street parking in the area north of downtown roughly bounded by Walnut and Woodlawn and by 17th and 13th has, since Aug. 15, required a residential neighborhood parking permit. The newly defined Zone 6, has round-the-clock enforcement from Thursday through Sunday.

It’s the city’s parking commission that has purview over these kinds of parking issues. The commission’s meetings are open to the public, like those of all boards and commissions.

The bright orange reserved parking signs got some brief discussion at last Thursday’s meeting, as did the early feedback on Zone 6 and other neighborhood parking permit areas that had their rules tweaked starting Aug. 15. Commissioners heard enough positive feedback that the changes are considered a success.

Its meeting last Thursday was the first one  for the parking commission since June, after its regular sessions in July and August were cancelled due to lack of a quorum.

Difficulty in achieving a quorum is related to one of the topics for future discussion identified by parking commissioners on Thursday. Scott Robinson, who’s assistant director for the city’s transportation and planning department, suggested the combination of three transportation-related commissions: parking, traffic, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Here’s a round-up of parking commission meeting topics, other issues commissioners might be tackling, and some other parking-related talk The Beacon has heard at other public meetings. Continue reading “Bloomington’s parking commission counts new neighborhood permit rules as initial success, mulls more policy tweaks”

Christmas Eve deadline looms for Bloomington city council, friction on UDO hearing schedule might mean approaching apocalypse

At a work session held Friday, Bloomington city councilmembers tried for an hour to settle on an approach to its schedule of upcoming hearings and votes on amendments to the updated unified development ordinance (UDO). It’s the basic local law on land use and zoning in the city.

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Bloomington’s city council meets Friday in the McCloskey Room of city hall to hash through scheduling of UDO update hearings. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

They made only incremental progress.

What’s certain is that the UDO will appear as a first reading on the council’s Oct. 2 meeting agenda. It’s likely the council will vote that night to establish Oct. 16 as the first hearing date. From then through Christmas Eve—which is the end of the 90-day window for council action to amend and adopt the UDO—the council’s UDO calendar is still mostly a vacant lot, even after Friday’s work session.

The deadline is keyed to the certification of the plan commission’s 9–0 vote on Sept. 24 to recommend adoption of the draft. The commission considered and, to some extent amended the updated UDO, over a series meetings that started a month earlier.

The council’s Friday work session concluded with the understanding that council president, Dave Rollo, and attorney/administrator, Dan Sherman, would confer later, to draft a possible framework for the council’s UDO scheduling. If Sherman and Rollo are able to hammer out enough procedural details to them put to a vote on Oct. 2, it will mean they managed to reconcile two basic approaches debated at the work session.

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith championed an approach weighted in favor of detailed presentations on four chunks of the UDO, spread out over at least four different meetings. She wants possible amendments  to be handled as they arise, in the course of the council’s methodical review of each chunk of the document. Piedmont-Smith said she wants the public to understand the “hot button” issues—like accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and duplexes—in the broader context of all of the city’s land use regulations.

Councilmember Chris Sturbaum advocated for an approach that deals with the most controversial items as soon as possible, scheduled in a way that makes clear to members of the public when they should show up to advocate on a particular issue. “It would be smart to hit the hard stuff right off the bat,” he said. Some amendments on ADUs and duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes had been handled by the plan commission early in the process, and after that, Sturbaum said, the commission had “coasted home.”

Sturbaum attended some of the plan commission’s hearings, and spoke from the podium during public commentary time, advocating against ADUs and plexes. Sturbaum said that the planning staff agreed with the approach he supported, even though they disagreed on the issues like ADUs and plexes:

“I think the fact that planning and I are on the same page is either a sign of the apocalypse, or maybe it means that we know what we’re talking about. We sat through those meetings.” Continue reading “Christmas Eve deadline looms for Bloomington city council, friction on UDO hearing schedule might mean approaching apocalypse”

First reading of Bloomington 2020 budget: “The two issues are police and climate change.”

At a special meeting held on Wednesday night, the Bloomington city council got a formal first reading of the half dozen ordinances that make up the 2020 budget, proposed by Mayor John Hamilton’s administration.

At their committee-of-the whole meeting, which followed on the heels of the special meeting, the council took a series of non-binding straw votes on the ordinances.

The outcome of those straw votes formed a record of their discontent.

They’re disappointed that the city and the police union have not yet reached an agreement after more than 18 months of negotiation, and they’re frustrated by the sheer volume of conflicting information about staffing levels, morale, recruitment and retention that they’ve heard from the police union and administration.

They’re also disappointed that the mayor declined to add a top-level position to manage the city’s response to climate change.

The areas of disappointment will not have surprised the administration or the watching public. Councilmembers had voiced many of the same concerns during a series of departmental budget hearings held over four days in August. Continue reading “First reading of Bloomington 2020 budget: “The two issues are police and climate change.””

Bloomington’s plan commission sends revised unified development ordinance (UDO) to city council with 9–0 recommendation to adopt

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Plan commission chair Joe Hoffmann got interrupted briefly at Monday’s meeting by other commissioners who gave him a round of applause to recognize his 32 years of service on the plan commission. It was his last meeting, special or regular, as a plan commissioner.

Bloomington’s plan commission voted 9–0 Monday night to recommend adoption of a revised version of the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) to the city council. That starts a 10-day clock ticking for the commission’s action to be certified. Once certified, the city council has 90-days to act on the commission’s recommendation.

The 19 hours and 9 minutes worth of hearings held by the commission, starting in late August, were on occasion punctuated by contentious remarks delivered from the public podium. Particular points of controversy were duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in core neighborhoods, as well as accessory dwelling units.

The recommended UDO that the city council will take up, probably starting in mid-October, makes accessory dwelling units conditional uses. An amendment approved by the planning commission in the last couple of weeks changed them from accessory uses to conditional uses.

The updated UDO recommended by the plan commission allows the du- tri- and four-plexes only as conditional uses. A plan commission amendment to make them by-right failed. City planning staff prepared an amendment that would prohibit plexes in core neighborhoods, but none of the plan commissioners moved it for consideration. Continue reading “Bloomington’s plan commission sends revised unified development ordinance (UDO) to city council with 9–0 recommendation to adopt”

Bloomington’s 2020 budget heads to council with few changes, stalled bargaining talks mean flat pay for police


The 2020 budget that’s included in the Bloomington city council’s meeting packet for this Wednesday is virtually the same as the one that was presented in a series of departmental hearings in August.

It does not include, as a couple of councilmembers had suggested, the creation of a top-level position to direct the city’s action to meet goals related to climate change. The administration’s budget also does not include any additional police officer positions—beyond the two extra officers that were already a part of the budget proposal. The possibility of adding more officers had been suggested by some councilmembers.

Included in the meeting packet is a memo to the council from the city’s director of human resources, Caroline Shaw, that says in writing what councilmembers heard from police union representatives at their most recent meeting, last Wednesday: No contract agreement has been reached between the city and the police. Continue reading “Bloomington’s 2020 budget heads to council with few changes, stalled bargaining talks mean flat pay for police”