Audience members munched on popcorn Tuesday evening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater while the 19 city council candidates took turns speaking about issues such as the Fourth Street parking garage and housing development.
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce organized the event and former Herald-Times editor Bob Zaltzberg moderated. Because of the number of candidates, they were broken up into two groups, each with an hour to speak.
The impending Fourth Street parking garage decision was a prominent topic during the evening. The Chamber has been a vocal supporter of the rebuild of Fourth Street parking garage, a controversial project that will be decided on at tomorrow’s city council meeting.
The candidates are roughly evenly divided on the issue. Some said rebuilding the garage is necessary for access to downtown Bloomington while others said the $18.5 million it would cost to rebuild should be used to better the public transit system.
“We need to make cars a luxury, not a necessity,” District 2 candidate Daniel Bingham said.
Dorothy Granger, the District 2 incumbent, sees the garage as a current necessity that must be kept for commuters, visitors and residents who live far from the downtown area.
“We need to provide service to people who work here, who have dinner here, who want to stay and see a movie,” Granger said.
At-large candidates Matt Flaherty and Jean Capler both thought providing more public transportation would be a social equalizer as well as more environmentally sound than rebuilding the garage.
Capler pointed out that buses often stop running before city council meetings end Wednesday nights. She said she sees this as a limitation to people who rely on buses to participate in government.
Erin Predmore, president and CEO of the Chamber, asked the audience to attend the meeting tomorrow night to see the decision play out. She also announced that there will be child care provided like last week, again organized by the Chamber.
The candidates were also divided on other topics like housing development and how to create more affordable housing. One idea is to allow duplexes and triplexes into established neighborhoods, along with allowing the addition of accessory dwellings, smaller homes available for rent, to existing properties.
Many incumbent candidates voiced their concerns over how this may change the character of core neighborhoods. Some new candidates said increased housing density within walking distance of the downtown area is necessary.
District 1 incumbent Chris Sturbaum said he did not like the idea of putting duplexes and triplexes in currently single-family neighborhoods.
“It is an assault on single-family housing,” Sturbaum said.
Flaherty and at-large candidate Vauhxx Booker, both in their 30s, said their age-group is particularly vulnerable to rising housing prices. They support the cheaper housing prices that come from creating a denser downtown.
“Right now, we’re leaving a lot of people behind,” Flaherty said. “If we continue doing what we’re doing, we’re going to lose a lot of people in my demographic.”
District 1 candidate Kate Rosenbarger said integrating different kinds of housing would create a less exclusive environment. Capler said she supports accessory dwellings that are on the same property of a house if they are rented out by homeowners.
District 4 candidate Miah Michaelsen and District 5 incumbent Isabel Piedmont-Smith agreed the city needs to conduct a housing study.
Early voting for city elections begins April 9.