Opinion | Flying, falling pumpkins: A perfect pandemic pick-me-up

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On Saturday starting at noon, a few dozen pumpkins were sent flying several hundred feet down the field at the Monroe County fairgrounds.

The grass expanse, littered with shards of busted orange gourds, marked the return of Pumpkin Launch, hosted by the city of Bloomington’s parks and recreation department.

Four teams competed on Saturday—three with trebuchet-style launchers and a fourth with a sling-shot powered device.

The long-running event was rained out last year. Saturday’s skies started off overcast, but rain was never a threat. And by early afternoon, the sun had started to nudge the temperature upward from 50 F degrees. The wind was blowing out of the northeast at around 10 mph, so it was a brisk but still pleasant day.

The mark of the COVID-19 pandemic on this year’s event was clear. Orange pumpkin-shaped social distancing “circles”—complete with a green stem—were painted out in the spectator area to keep groups of people spread out. Instructions from the event staff were clear: If you go outside your group’s pumpkin circle, make sure you’re wearing a mask.

The number of cars was limited to 75 to keep the crowd size down.

Scoring for the day’s effort was strictly objective.

Distances—from the pumpkin launchers to the point of impact and from there to the targets—were measured with a GPS device. An old-fashioned measuring wheel was pressed into service when the more modern gadget fritzed out briefly.

In the day’s earlier of the two sessions, the first effort from Tetanus Express measured out at 903 feet, the longest launch for that round.

Also, objectively scored, Pumpkin Launch was great fun.

The parks and recreation staff who put the event together, which included community coordinators Sarah Owen and Bill Ream, delivered a couple of hours of pure delight and refreshing distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading “Opinion | Flying, falling pumpkins: A perfect pandemic pick-me-up”

Early in-person voting continues Saturday in Monroe County, pace so far around 100 voters per hour

Friday set another daily high for early in-person voters in Monroe County: 1,114. That eclipsed by a half dozen voters the previous high of 1,108, which was set on Thursday.

Through the first 14 days of early voting, the total of early voters stands at 14,142.

Remaining days to vote in person include this Saturday (Oct. 24), weekdays the following week, next Saturday (Oct. 31) and the final Monday before Election Day.

Election Central, where early in-person voting takes place, is at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington—the old Johnson Hardware building.

The voting totals on Saturday are almost certain to be lower than the average of about 1,000 per day that have been tallied through the first 14 days. That’s because Saturday voting hours are shorter—seven hours compared to 10 on weekdays. (For voting times and days, check Monroe County’s Election Central website.)

If the same pace of voting is maintained on Saturday, about 700 people will make their way through the line by the end of the day, which has generally wrapped at least halfway around the block.

At Friday afternoon’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 pandemic response, president of the county commissioners, Julie Thomas, said, “I personally waited an hour and 45 minutes to vote and it was worth every moment.” She added, “Everyone in line was wearing a mask, we were standing six feet apart. So it was really heartening to see that and we really appreciate the voters for doing that.”

The only early voting location in Monroe County is at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington. Continue reading “Early in-person voting continues Saturday in Monroe County, pace so far around 100 voters per hour”

Former Player’s Pub building: Veiled “sensitive” info could form backdrop to city council’s consideration for historic designation

At its Thursday night meeting, Bloomington’s historic preservation commission (HPC) took two votes that put the former Player’s Pub building on a possible path to permanent historic protection.

The specter of some not-yet-confirmed “sensitive” information that could “sully some reputations” was raised by one commissioner, but that did not convince his colleagues to put off their vote.

They’re working under a deadline that is imposed by the demolition delay procedure that was triggered when the owners sought to demolish the building. It’s listed as “contributing” in the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory as well as the local inventory.

The 90-day demolition delay window expires on Oct. 30. A delay on Thursday night would have meant calling a special meeting between now and next Friday, if commissioners had delayed and still wanted to pursue the possibility of historic designation.

In one of its resolutions, the HPC put the building on South Walnut Street under interim protection. In the other resolution, the HPC forwarded its recommendation to the city council to give the property historic designation.

Action by the commissioners on Thursday came after a decision they made a couple of weeks ago, which was not to release the building for demolition and instead to start the process that could lead to historic designation. Continue reading “Former Player’s Pub building: Veiled “sensitive” info could form backdrop to city council’s consideration for historic designation”

Déjà Duplex: Text amendment included in zoning map process would allow plexes in all areas zoned for residential use

A screenshot of a story map to proposed zoning changes that could eventually wind up in front of the Bloomington plan commission and city council in 2021. Image links to the UDO Zoning Map: Public Outreach Draft webpage.

A press release issued Thursday afternoon by the city of Bloomington announced the start of a public engagement process to revise the zoning map of the city.

Action by the plan commission and city council is not scheduled until 2021.

Substantive revisions to the zoning map were the next, expected step after the final adoption of a new unified development ordinance (UDO) earlier this year. The UDO revision created some new zoning categories, among them “mixed use student housing” or MS. That’s a category that could make it onto the zoning map ahead of other new categories, because a specific development is requesting a rezone to that category.

But the general approach is not to wait for specific requests for rezoning to put the new zoning categories from the UDO onto a map of the city. That’s why the public engagement process announced on Thursday was not a surprise.

Also making it an expected bit of news is the fact that the current IU Health hospital on 2nd Street will be redeveloped as something other than a hospital, when the new facility opens out on the SR 46 bypass. The 24-acre site will be handed over to the city in late 2021 by Indiana University Health in a $6.5 million real estate deal. That means a probable rezone from MH (mixed-use health care) to something else, like MN (mixed-use neighborhood scale).

Not necessarily expected as a part of the public engagement process is the re-opening of the kind of question that led to acrimonious community debate last year over the question of duplexes, triplexes and quads in core neighborhoods of the city.

But one of the issues the public will be asked to think about again, according to the city’s press release is “Adding ‘plexes’ as a housing option in all districts that allow residential uses.”

It’s not the same proposal that was considered last year as a part of the UDO, the city’s development development services manager Jackie Scanlan told The Square Beacon. “The plexes proposal is different from the previous proposal.” She added, “We are planning to prepare an exhibit to compare the proposals.”

The first public engagement meeting is five days away, set for Oct. 27 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. by Zoom video conference. Details are supposed to be posted on the project website: UDO Zoning Map: Public Outreach Draft. Continue reading “Déjà Duplex: Text amendment included in zoning map process would allow plexes in all areas zoned for residential use”

Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing ridership on Bloomington Transit buses to slump compared to normal levels, even if the month-to-month numbers have shown increases starting in May.

The return to campus of Indiana University students in August has increased numbers a bit, but the historical September spike is not evident on this year’s chart. That’s because the local travel needs of students have diminished due to the prevalence of classes offered online.

The reduced ridership means BT has reduced its service hours on routes that primarily serve campus locations—Routes 6, 7, and 9. That has led BT and IU to renegotiate the agreement under which university affiliates can board buses without paying a fare. The renegotiation reduced the payment to around 70 percent of the historical number.

At their Tuesday meeting, BT board members voted to continue BT’s COVID-19 protocols another month, which includes allowing all riders to board buses without paying a fare.

On Wednesday the city issued a press release announcing that a second BT bus driver has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The first driver tested positive on Aug. 3. According to Wednesday’s press release, an internal contact tracing process determined that there were no other employees or customers placed at risk of exposure by the driver. They drove on Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17, according to the release. Continue reading “Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19”

Monroe County commissioners put off changes to personnel policy after councilors tweak salary ordinance

On Wednesday morning, a vote on changes to Monroe County’s personnel policy got postponed by the board of commissioners.

Several of the proposed changes to the policy had a certain routine quality.

One was the conversion of sick time to personal benefit time. That conversion meant deleting requirements for physician statements after three days. A third revision changed bereavement time from five days to three days.

Also apparently uncontroversial, at least for the commissioners, was another change that added a section called “Competent and Inclusive Workforce.”

The section reads in part, “[A]ll elected officials and full time employees will be required to participate in [cultural sensitivity training, implicit bias training] approved by the Board of Commissioners, or the Prosecutor, or the Board of Judges.”

But on Tuesday, the night before, when the county council took its vote on the 2021 budget, the seven-member fiscal body took a step that affected the commissioners’ decision. The council uncoupled the salary ordinances—for elected officials and county employees alike—from any changes the commissioners might make to the personnel policy. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners put off changes to personnel policy after councilors tweak salary ordinance”

A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.”

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One of the two parking garages currently under construction in downtown Bloomington is close enough to completion that on Tuesday afternoon a dozen city insiders and media types got a tour.

Just north of city hall, the opening of the Trades District garage, with around 380 parking spaces, is on course for late March. But enough of the main elements are in place that it’s already unmistakable as a parking garage.

That contrasts with the replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which is not due to come online until August of 2021. So it’s still coming out of the ground.

Of the 540 spaces to be constructed in the 4th Street replacement garage, 352 count as replacements for the spaces that were housed in the previous 4th Street structure. It was closed at the end of 2018 due to structural failure, and demolished last year.

Leading Tuesday’s tour were Bloomington’s director for economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, and Josh Scism, with Core Planning Strategies, the firm that’s managing both parking garage projects.

Scism focused the group’s attention on the structural elements: concrete, cabling, pumps and the like.

Crowley took the chance to review with the group the case for the city’s decision to build the garage, but hedged against any perceived enthusiasm for parking garages generally. “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages,” Crowley said. Continue reading “A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.””

8 local non-profits get total of $250K in CARES Act funding

Funding agreements between Bloomington’s HAND (Housing and Neighborhood Development) Department and eight local nonprofits totaling $253,862 were approved by the city’s redevelopment commission on Monday night.

The money is coming from a supplemental allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which was made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

When its notice of available funding went out in May, HAND said it would consider applications ranging from  $5,000 to $50,000. Three of the non-profits that had agreements approved on Monday received the maximum award: Boys & Girls Club, Hoosier Hills Food Bank, and Shalom Community Center (now Beacon).

The city’s May press release said HAND had received $525,656 of supplemental funding. Monday’s agreements fell about $270,000 short of that total.

Asked if HAND was leaving CARES Act money on the table, HAND director Doris Sims said, “We didn’t leave it on the table. We did have more applicants who applied.” She added that the additional applicants had asked for funding that did not meet the requirements under the CARES Act.

Sims said HAND is looking to make a second round of CARES Act funding, with a notice to that effect expected in November. Sims said she hopes the rest of the CARES Act funding could be awarded by the end of December. Continue reading “8 local non-profits get total of $250K in CARES Act funding”

Bloomington’s e-scooter ridership down, Lime still leads, but cedes ground to Veo

In August and September this year, a total of about 71,800 rides were taken in Bloomington on e-scooters, which are available for short-term rental from three different companies.

That’s only about 46 percent of the ridership seen for the same two months in 2019—an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though Indiana University students have returned to campus, many of them have vastly reduced local travel requirements, because some of their classes are offered online.

University affiliates make up the majority of ridership for public buses and private e-scooters alike. After e-scooter ridership dipped to nearly nothing over the summer, it has rebounded a little bit this fall, somewhat better than public bus ridership.

Ridership on Bloomington Transit’s fixed route buses in August this year was around just 32 percent of August ridership in 2019.

In Bloomington the competition for riders is a three-way fight between Bird, Lime and a newcomer, Veo. The last to arrive on the scene, Veo can now claim around 32 percent of Bloomington ridership, better than twice as much as Bird’s 12 percent, but still trailing Lime’s 56 percent. Continue reading “Bloomington’s e-scooter ridership down, Lime still leads, but cedes ground to Veo”

Two separate blocks on Kirkwood Avenue to be closed through week until end of year, weekends-only for one block

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Still in place on Monday afternoon were the yellow bollards that public works crews installed before the weekend, to close off parts of Kirkwood Avenue in downtown Bloomington.

That’s not due to any slacking by Bloomington public works. They have been setting up and removing the Kirkwood bollards every weekend since mid-June.

But from now until the end of the year, there will be no need to remove the bollards for some parts of the street.

According to a press release from the city of Bloomington issued Friday afternoon, from now until the end of the year,  two one-block segments will be closed through the week, and one additional segment will be closed just on weekends.

The closures, which started just on weekends in mid-June, are meant to allow restaurants to seat more people outside, distanced from each other, in an atmosphere where patrons might feel safer from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus. Continue reading “Two separate blocks on Kirkwood Avenue to be closed through week until end of year, weekends-only for one block”