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. Continue reading “77 more Bloomington bedrooms: Johnson Creamery downtown residential project gets plan commission OK”

Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed

Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.

3-guenther kappas cockerham
From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

The meeting agenda  includes two residential projects—one on 3rd Street near the police station, and another at Johnson Creamery—which together could mean 179 additional bedrooms for Bloomington’s housing inventory.

Andrew Guenther won’t be helping to decide whether those projects are approved. That’s because the city of Bloomington has rejected Guenther’s claim to a plan commission seat, which is based on an attempted appointment by the Monroe County’s Republican Party chair, William Ellis.

Instead of Guenther, it will be Chris Cockerham serving in that seat on Monday. Cockerham is a Republican, who’s the choice of Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton. Cockerham has already served for one meeting as plan commissioner, on June 8, which is what prompted a lawsuit.

A court hearing is now set for Aug. 5. If any part of the hearing goes Guenther’s way, it might not be Cockerham who serves in the seat for the next while. Guenther and Ellis are asking the court to keep Cockerham on the sidelines of any plan commission meetings, until the matter is resolved. Continue reading “Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed”

Amendment filed in lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat

An amended complaint filed on Monday, in the already pending lawsuit over a Bloomington city plan commission seat, adds a new legal question to the mix.

3-guenther kappas cockerham
From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

Now the judge in the case is being asked to decide whether the commissioner who previously held the seat met the statutory conditions for appointment.

The plaintiffs—Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis and would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther—are asking the judge to find that Nick Kappas’s appointment was void ab initio (from the beginning).

They’re not saying that Kappas himself did anything wrong.

It was Kappas who previously served in the seat, from 2016 to the end of 2019. But Bloomington mayor John Hamilton did not reappoint him.

When Hamilton did not appoint anyone to the seat for 90 days, Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis announced he had the authority to make the appointment, and chose Andrew Guenther to fill the seat.

Hamilton and the city’s legal team don’t agree with Ellis’s position. So Hamilton appointed Chris Cockerham, who is a Republican like Guenther. At Cockerham’s first meeting as a plan commissioner Guenther asserted his right to the seat. When Cockerham did not yield it, Ellis and Guenther filed the lawsuit.

How does Kappas get drawn into the mix, given that he is making no claim to the current seat?

It’s a matter of political party affiliation. Kappas did not have one, from the time he was appointed through his time of service on the plan commission. Continue reading “Amendment filed in lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

Guennther and Chris Cockerham Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 4.46.53 PM
Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that that “the member whose has term expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed over the disputed seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

Guennther and Chris Cockerham Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 4.46.53 PM
Chris Cockerham (left) took his seat on the plan commission on Monday night, as Andrew Guenther (right) asserted a claim to the seat in the Zoom video conference chat window. A lawsuit was filed on Tuesday over the seat.

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Cockerham has already served as planning commissioner for one meeting, on Monday this week.

In mid-April, Ellis declared his right to make the appointment as chair of the Republican Party. The announcement from Ellis came after Hamilton for several weeks did not fill the vacancy that was left when Hamilton decided not to re-appoint Nick Kappas. Kappas’s term expired at the end of 2019.

How does Ellis argue that he has the authority as Monroe County GOP chair to make a plan commission appointment that’s normally made by the mayor? Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat”

Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed

Bloomington’s plan commission gave approvals to two significant petitions at its Monday night meeting.

The first was a request to rezone about 12.5 acres just east of RCA Community Park, as part of a planned unit development (PUD), so that 70 single-family homes can be built there. As a rezoning, the PUD will now be considered by Bloomington’s city council.

The second petition was the final plan approval of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project proposed by Trinitas Development, for 39 acres nestled in the southeast corner of the I-69 and SR 45/46 interchange. The plan commission had previously recommended approval of the project’s rezoning. Bloomington’s city council agreed, on a unanimous vote in early March.

Monday’s meeting was Chris Cockerham’s first as plan commissioner since receiving an appointment from the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, to replace Nick Kappas, who served through the end of 2019, but was not re-appointed.

The fact that Cockerham’s seat is still disputed was evident from the message conveyed on Monday during the plan commission’s meeting by Andrew Guenther, using the chat feature of the Zoom videoconference platform, on which the meeting was conducted.

“On April 16th, 2020, in accordance with IC 36-1-8-10, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis appointed me, Andrew Guenther, to the Bloomington Plan Commission,” Guenther wrote.

Guenther added, “Mr. Ellis and I make a final request today that Planning & Transportation, as well as the Plan Commission, deny Mr. Cockerham’s appointment and recognize myself, Andrew Guenther, as the legal and rightful appointee to the Bloomington Plan Commission.”

A lawsuit over the appointment could be filed as soon as Tuesday. Continue reading “Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed”

Two people, one seat for Bloomington’s plan commission vacancy: Will a judge decide who sits there?

The city of Bloomington confirmed to The Square Beacon on Thursday afternoon that the mayor, John Hamilton, has appointed commercial real estate broker Chris Cockerham to fill the vacancy on the city’s plan commission. The plan commission is a nine-member group, five of which seats are appointed by the mayor.

The vacancy was created in January, when Nick Kappas was not reappointed.

In a statement sent to The Square Beacon city attorney Mike Rouker said, “[T]he Mayor was pleased to select Chris for service on the commission. We are very excited about this appointment, and we are looking forward to Chris and the rest of the plan commission getting back to the important work they do for our community.”

Reached by The Square Beacon on Thursday, Cockerham said, “I’m ready to serve and happy to serve. Hopefully, it works out.”

Why wouldn’t it work out?

In mid-April, Monroe County Republican chair William Ellis issued a press release saying that he, as GOP chair—not the mayor—had the authority to fill the plan commission vacancy. Ellis’s pick for the spot was Andrew Guenther. Continue reading “Two people, one seat for Bloomington’s plan commission vacancy: Will a judge decide who sits there?”

Bloomington plan commission vacancy: GOP county chair says he has authority to fill it, picks Guenther

One of the nine seats on the Bloomington plan commission has been vacant since around Jan. 6, when the four-year term for Nick Kappas expired, and the city’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton, decided not to reappoint him.

cropped 10-28-2019 10-28-2019 guenther close up IMG_8091
Andrew Guenther at a 2019 city council campaign event. (Square Beacon file photo)

The spot held by Kappas is one of the five seats on the nine-member plan commission that are expected to be appointed by the mayor.

In a departure from that expectation, a press release issued Thursday afternoon, by Monroe County Republican Party chair, William Ellis, says the GOP leader has made the plan commission appointment to fill the vacancy.

The GOP chair’s pick, according to the release, is Andrew Guenther, who’s current chair of the city’s environmental commission. Last year Guenther was a Republican candidate for the District 2 city council, a race that was won decisively by Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Why does Ellis think he has the authority to make what is ordinarily a mayoral appointment? Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission vacancy: GOP county chair says he has authority to fill it, picks Guenther”

Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021

skinny artwork for 4th Street download
Rendering of the integrated art project for the 4th Street parking garage that has been designed by Project ONE Studio. The quilted grids are to be fabricated out of  painted aluminum.

By August 2021, motorists in downtown Bloomington could have 537 more parking spaces to choose from.

On Monday night, the city’s plan commission approved a design for a new garage at the same site, on the same footprint, where the old 4th Street parking garage stood, until it was demolished in late 2019. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021”

Revised 4th Street garage design goes to Bloomington plan commission as parking gets more scrutiny in community

After an unsuccessful attempt to use eminent domain to acquire land south of the now-demolished 4th Street parking structure, the city of Bloomington has now unveiled a design for the replacement garage. The new design is confined to the footprint of the old 352-space garage.

On Monday, March 9, the city’s plan commission will consider the city’s proposal for a new seven-story parking garage with 537 parking spaces. That’s one story taller than the previous design presented last July, which had a larger footprint. Continue reading “Revised 4th Street garage design goes to Bloomington plan commission as parking gets more scrutiny in community”