Monroe County commissioners reject mixed-use proposal at Rogers Street, That Road: “We are the county. We are not the city.”

On a unanimous vote taken at their regular Wednesday meeting, the three Monroe County commissioners turned down a proposal to redevelop a 4-acre parcel just south of the current Bloomington city limits, with five residential and commercial buildings.

The conceptual plans in the meeting information packet call for 31 new residences—15 in one building, five in each of three other buildings and one in a fifth building. The petition, brought by Blind Squirrels, LLC, would have constructed attached townhomes, multi-family residences, and commercial space.

Called “Clear Creek Urban,” the proposal was in front of the commissioners, because it was a proposed rezone from different types of residential zoning districts, and a planned unit development (PUD), to a new PUD. A PUD is a kind of custom zoning created to suit unique characteristics of a site.

When she explained her vote against the proposal, Julie Thomas, president of the county board of commissioners, first said that she thinks some kind of development for the parcel is needed. Thomas praised the creativity of the proposal, which was presented by Tamby Wikle-Cassady for Blind Squirrels.

Thomas said, “It’s nice to imagine a sort of a community feel that would have emerged from this—sort of like when you go through Unionville or Harrodsburg or other communities that we have.” Thomas added, “The building design is great. The ability to adapt and to make changes has been really phenomenal. And I want to thank Ms. Cassady for that.”

The problem for Thomas was the project’s density. “While I support the idea of having mixed use, I just think that this is too much density for the county…The first building is going to be very tall [three stories], especially compared to the immediate surrounding community,” Thomas said. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners reject mixed-use proposal at Rogers Street, That Road: “We are the county. We are not the city.””

COVID-19 update: Upward surge of cases continues, but vaccinations accelerate

Friday’s report of 54 new cases of COVID-19 for Monroe County cases is the highest number since Feb. 3.

But the rate of fully vaccinated county residents that are being added to the daily total has risen in the last couple weeks, to around 500 per day. That’s after bumping along in the low 300s for about seven weeks.

According to Indiana University’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, another boost to the number of fully vaccinated county residents will come in early May. That increase will come when people who are being vaccinated at the university’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall start getting their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

White was speaking at the weekly Friday afternoon press conference held by local leaders on COVID-19 pandemic response. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Upward surge of cases continues, but vaccinations accelerate”

Upward nudge in Monroe County COVID-19 case numbers means local health regs likely to stay in place, after governor’s April 6 end date

The dark purple line is the 7-day rolling average of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. The height of the red line is at 21.2 cases a day. That’s the daily average below which Monroe County needs to stay in order to remain in the “yellow” category for weekly cases per 100,000 residents, in the state’s dual-metric classification scheme.

Indiana governor Eric Holcomb announced Tuesday an end to statewide COVID-19 restrictions, starting April 6.

But Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said on Friday that Monroe County’s regulations will remain in place for the time being.

That’s based in part on a recent uptick in positive cases in the county, which includes Indiana University’s campus.

Caudill was speaking at the weekly Friday news conference held by local officials on COVID-19 response.

Under the county board of health’s current health order, Caudill and county health officer Thomas Sharp have the “the ability to adjust restrictions—in any particular area—as required, in order to protect the public health.”

The county board of health is next scheduled to meet on April 6 at 4 p.m. Caudill said the board routinely looks at the pandemic data to make changes and adapt as numbers improve. Continue reading “Upward nudge in Monroe County COVID-19 case numbers means local health regs likely to stay in place, after governor’s April 6 end date”

Local vigil demands justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: “Say her Asian name.”

The local response to the killing of eight people in Atlanta last week included a virtual vigil on Tuesday night, held on the Zoom video conference platform.

The image links to the Facebook video recording of the vigil.

The title of the vigil was “Justice for AAPI” (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders). The victims of the shooting were nearly all Asian American, and their killing has been analyzed as an anti-Asian crime.

Hiromi Yoshida, who teaches American literature for the Monroe County Public Library’s VITAL program, helped lead off the vigil.

To commemorate the lives of those who were killed in the Atlanta shootings, Yoshida offered a longer poem, but started with a haiku.

Untitled Haiku

Atlanta shootings
Sad Women’s History Month
Say her Asian name

Continue reading “Local vigil demands justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: “Say her Asian name.””

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”

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 design element requirements for residential buildings could be abolished by state legislature

A state house bill that could have a potential impact on Bloomington’s zoning code is making its way through the state house.

The mage is from an elevation from The Standard at Bloomington, a 1,000-bed student-oriented housing development that got site plan approval from the city plan commission in early February, 2021.  EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing System) is not allowed for residential use in some Bloomington zoning districts, but is allowed in others. Bloomington’s regulation of EIFS would be affected by HB 1114.

In early February, on an 8–5 vote, HB 1114 was passed out of the committee on government and regulatory reform.

The key sentence of HB 1114 states: “A municipality shall not regulate design elements of residential structures.”

Applying the bill’s definition of “design elements” would have an impact on the kind of design elements that appear in Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO)

It would mean Bloomington could not enforce some aspects of its basic local law on land use.

If it is passed, HB 1114 could affect the upcoming debate by Bloomington’s plan commission, followed by the city council, on revisions to the citywide zoning map and amendments to its text ordinance.

HB 1114 would still need to achieve a majority in a floor vote in the house, and approval by the state senate, to become state law.

State representative Matt Pierce (D), responded to a question about the bill at a legislative update on Saturday, hosted by the League of Women Voters Bloomington-Monroe and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.

Pierce said it might have hit a “snag” because it may have encountered some opposition in the Republican caucus.

Speaking at the same legislative update on Saturday state representative Jeff Ellington (R) indicated the bill is not dead, “First to the middle of the week, there’ll probably be, I heard, maybe some amendments to make it a little less aggressive.”

Many of those who oppose the bill, like Pierce, see it as an encroachment on local government control. Those who support it, like Ellington, say it will allow more affordable housing to be built.

How could HB 1114 affect Bloomington’s upcoming local rezoning debate? Continue reading “Bloomington design element requirements for residential buildings could be abolished by state legislature”

Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn

In the state of Indiana and Monroe County, the COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to slide down the other side of the peaks that were climbed starting in mid- to late-October of 2020.

The most recent rolling 7-day daily averages for Indiana deaths (19), hospitalizations (1,274), confirmed positive cases(1,621) are the lowest the state has seen since mid-October. The same is true for confirmed positive cases in Monroe County (31).

Dispensing every drop of vaccine that they are allocated has become the main focus for local health officials. That’s the basic picture that emerged from Friday’s weekly news conference held by local officials on pandemic response.

Right now the main barrier to vaccinating more people is the amount of vaccine available. IU Health is currently allocated about 4,000 doses a week, and Monroe County’s clinic is getting around 800 doses a week. The current pace of full vaccinations—two doses are required—would put Monroe County at the 70-percent herd-immunity threshold around mid-November.

That’s assuming demand remains higher than the supply of vaccine. Otherwise put, that’s assuming that enough people are willing to be vaccinated. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn”

Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Monroe County councilors got a briefing from local economic experts on their outlook for the coming year.

The presentation came from Carol Rogers, who’s co-director of the Indiana Business Research Center at IUPUI, and Jennifer Pearl, who’s president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation.

The current jobs growth and unemployment news is bad in Monroe County, as it is in the rest of the state.

Rogers told county councilors the local labor force numbers have slipped. The labor force figure of 69,205 in December 2020 is down 2.5 percent compared to December 2019, she said.

Out of that labor force of 69,205, in late 2020, 2,315 people were unemployed in Monroe County. That made for a 3.3-percent unemployment rate. It’s 25 percent higher than last year, Rogers said. “We’re in one of the highest unemployment scenarios that we’ve been in the county since the Great Recession,” Rogers said.

One statistic that Rogers said she’ll be tracking as a possible driver of economic recovery is the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Rogers said, “As more and more people become vaccinated, as the spread [of COVID-19] is reduced and hopefully potentially eliminated, [we hope] we’ll see [weekly unemployment] claims get down to the hundreds instead of well over 1,000.”

“The ability for [Indiana University] to constrain the virus spreading among the student population is going to have an effect on that.” Rogers said. Continue reading “Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm”

COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts

Across the state of Indiana and in Monroe County, COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending downward.

The good downward trends have not yet led local officials to relax regulations much. The numbers in all key areas, though headed downward, are still well above spring 2020 peaks.

In Monroe County, the rolling average of 31 daily cases is down from a mid-January peak of about 80, but that rolling average is still three times higher than the spring 2020 single-day high of 11.

Monroe County’s low positivity rate (2.2 percent), combined with a decrease in per capita case counts, has put the county into the yellow category on the state’s two-metric, color-coded system.

That’s led to one relaxed requirement from the county board of health. Gathering size limits have been raised from 25 to 50, Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said on Friday. She was speaking at the weekly press conference of local leaders about COVID-19 response.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he would be sticking with his executive order that limits gatherings to not more than 15 people inside Bloomington. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts”