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Bloomington City Council votes for new historic district, apartment complex



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Stephen Volan, Bloomington city council parliamentarian, speaks during a city council meeting Dec. 4 in the Showers Building. The council revisited the proposed 2020 Bloomington city budget. Joy Burton Buy Photos

Bloomington will be home to a new historic district and a new apartment complex.

The city council voted Wednesday to establish the Near West Side Conservation District and to approve 5.32 acres for a new, 166-resident apartment complex at 1201 W. Allen St.

It also approved multiple pieces of legislation regarding the police’s negotiated contract and a request from the council for the Monroe County Food & Beverage Tax Advisory Commission to recommend how to spend food and beverage tax revenues on the convention center expansion project.

Conor Herterich, historic preservation program manager, introduced the first ordinance and said the district would include 325 addresses, making it the largest in the city. It will include addresses on West Kirkwood Avenue, West Sixth through Ninth streets, as well as North Rogers, Jackson, Fairview, Maple, Waldron, Elm, Pine, Oak and Adams streets.

This district meets five out of 10 criteria listed for historic preservation in Title 8 of the Bloomington Municipal Code, Herterich said. A district only needs one in order to be considered for historic preservation.

One criterion is the area containing an architectural style, detail or another element in danger of being lost. He said the Near West Side is the largest collection of historic vernacular house types left in the city. Some are demolished or so neglected they’re close to being demolished.

He also said the area is significant to the development of the city and represents established and familiar visual features, and the area "exemplifies the built environment in an era of history characterized by a distinctive architectural style.”

Another criterion he mentioned is that the Near West Side “exemplifies the social heritage of the community.” Herterich said the neighborhood pertains to black history in Bloomington because around the turn of the 20th century, black people moved to that area of town to be near to their employer, the Showers Brothers Furniture Company, and due to segregation.

“These are important to preserve to tell the history of black history in Bloomington,” Herterich said.

Betty Bridgewaters said during public comment she’s lived in the Near West Side since 1946 with the exception of a few years. She pointed out discrepancies between the presentation and her memories of Bloomington.

“When I see the presentation, I find so many things that are not historical,” she said.

The motivations of black people to live on the West Side were misstated, she said. People didn’t move to be closer to work.

“You lived where you could live, and you went to where you could work,” Bridgewaters said.

Council member Jim Sims said he wanted to ensure the legislation was historically inclusive.

“I think it’s well-known there has been a whitewashing of history and particularly in black history over time,” Sims said. “There are just certain things that aren’t there because it’s been socially whitewashed.”

That’s why oral history is important, he said. He noted some deeds discouraged home owners to sell their houses to black people, and some realtors wouldn’t show houses to them in other parts of the city.

“That’s the unwritten part, I think,” Sims said.

Herterich said 67% of the addresses in the district are “contributing,” which means they’re categorized as historic properties. There are some noncontributing addresses in the historic district because they’re new. The commission considers the traditional boundaries of the neighborhood and the boundaries of the national registry nomination.

Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith asked about the effect on property owners if the district became historic.

Herterich said they would need to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission to fully demolish their house, build on a vacant lot or move their house.

Olivia Dorfman, co-chair of the Near West Side Historic Designation Committee, said the committee worked hard to consider all perspectives and concerns. They had meetings for community members, posting CATS TV coverage, using social media and having neighborhood members vote through. She said two-thirds of the votes were for historical designation.

“After all these efforts, we feel confident that the vote represented our community’s wish for designation of a conservation district,” Dorfman said.

Karen Duffy, the other chair of the committee, shared stories she and Dorfman uncovered during research into people who used to live in the neighborhood, some dating to the early 1900s.

“The Near West Side is filled with houses like ours and stories like these,” Duffy said. “As you consider the merits of our neighborhood’s proposal to commit ourselves to compatible change that respects the past, we hope you agree that it seems fitting to remember a few of the unsung working people who did so much to make Bloomington what it is today.”

Many council members said they appreciated hearing so many personal accounts. The council voted 9-0 to create the district.

The council also voted on the rezoning of 5.32 acres at 1201 W. Allen St. for a new apartment complex to be managed by local company Dwellings LLC. Dwellings representative Mark Lauchli presented the plan, which consists of 11 residential buildings, which can house more than 160 people. There will also be 10 two-car garages and 172 surface parking spaces. The company worked with nearby property owners to install a new bus stop close to the complex.

The property used to be a trailer park, a form of low-income housing, Lauchli said. With that in mind, the company estimates 15% of complex should provide “workforce housing.”

“We rent to what we call ‘The real Bloomington,’” he said. “We do rent to undergrads, but that’s not our target market.”

Lauchli said focusing on nonstudent housing will help Bloomington respond to the housing crisis.

“I’m not paying my way out of this problem,” he said. “We are building direct units that will go for workforce housing immediately.”

Rent will range from $660 to $1,300 per month at the complex.

Council member Dorothy Granger said workforce housing is needed, but so is affordable housing.

“But that’s not going to stop me from approving this,” she said.

Sustainability is important for this project, Lauchli said. High efficiency heat pumps, Energy Star-labeled appliances and low-flow plumbing are some of the sustainable features that will be in each unit. Complex-wide sustainable amenities include a community garden, rainwater capture and reuse system, resident composting and Dark-Sky Design guidelines to reduce light pollution.

Extra produce from the community garden will be encouraged to be donated to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.The leasing office will be powered by solar energy, and there will be a maintenance shop with a green roof.

“This development, in a real way, generates its own power,” Lauchli said.

Council member Steve Volan was concerned about the parking ratio. He said the complex’s proposed ratios were higher than average.

Lauchli said the complex needs to have that amount of parking spaces to accommodate residents who commute to work at IU, Cook Medical or even in Indianapolis. He cited the parking at the neighboring complex Dwellings LLC owns. There are more cars than bedrooms because many couples in one-bedroom units own two cars, Lauchli said.

“If they have these two cars and they need somewhere to park, and I don’t have parking, they’re probably not going to rent from me,” he said.

Lauchli also said the changes to the Bloomington Transit routes will end the nearby bus service at 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. He said that’s the time residents are out and about, so parking is even more important.

Many council members voiced their support for the complex, and the council voted 9-0 to approve it.

“There’s a lot to like,” Sims said.

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