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Bloomington's controversial Fourth Street garage redesign approved



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Israel Herrera (left) and Susan Sandberg (right), members of the City of Bloomington Plan Commission, listen to a presentation about the Fourth Street parking garage. The plan for the garage includes 537 spaces. Ally Melnik

Despite an outpouring of public comments against the project, the Bloomington Plan Commission approved the Fourth Street garage design presented to it Monday night.

The proposed garage would have about 540 parking spaces, 10 electric charging vehicle stations and 60 bicycle spaces spread across seven floors. In the redesign, the garage lost access to Third Street and about 2,000 square feet of commercial and public space, bringing the total ground floor space down to 6,750 square feet. Some of the property's space will also hold city offices and local businesses.

“We’re building this next parking capacity for it to last the next 50 years,” Bloomington economic and sustainable development director Alex Crowley said.

Construction is slated to begin in July and finish in July of 2021. The garage would be open to the public in mid-July, before students arrive for the 2021-22 academic year.

Crowley said the Fourth Street garage was a catalyst for downtown growth when it was first built in the 1980s. He said the garage helped revitalize the area, creating community growth by encouraging businesses to invest into it.

“Now we have a vibrant downtown,” Crowley said.

The redesign of the garage came after the city was legally prevented from acquiring the property where the business JuanSells.com Realty resides, which was a part of the original garage. Monroe County Circuit Court judge Holly Harvey ruled Dec. 20 that the city couldn’t use eminent domain, the government’s right to seize private land for public use, because the property would be filled by other businesses, which doesn’t constitute public use, according to court documents.

Removing the commercial space would violate Bloomington code, which requires that all garages have some area on the ground floor for commercial use.

After Crowley and other officials working on the redesign answered plan commission members’ questions, more than 15 people spoke during public comment. Some commenters said the city was advocating for economic growth, while others saw it as an indirect approval of fossil fuels.

Mary Morgan, a Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce employee, said she understands why people would be frustrated about what seems like a push for parking, but the city needs it.

“We’re in a transitional period, and maybe some time in the future we’ll have no parking, but that’s not right now,” Morgan said.

Bloomington resident Timothy Clark said the garage prioritizes cars and hurts public transportation methods such as buses.

The city needs to rethink what its priorities are, Clark said. He said the city should care more about public transportation and how to become carbon neutral, rather than set up more parking garages.

“This is a commitment to another 50 years of fossil fuel,” Clark said.

Uptown Café general manager Galen Cassady said he urges the commissioners to approve this garage. He said downtown employees can’t find affordable parking for the area, and it’s also unfair to the employees who live in rural areas and can’t easily bike or walk to work.The city has yet to decide how much it will cost to park at the garage.

City councilor Isabel Piedmont-Smith said the city shouldn't prioritize automotive transportation by approving this garage as it is.

The Bloomington City Council originally approved the design when it was six stories, not seven. She said the new design was bigger than it needed to be.

“I understand downtown businesses say we need parking, but we don’t need seven stories,” Piedmont-Smith said.

In what appeared to be a response to Piedmont-Smith’s public comment about the garage’s new size, plan commission member Susan Sandberg said the point of redesigning the garage is to get as close to the original benefits as possible, such as number of parking spaces.

“When the facts on the ground change, so does the design,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg said the lack of the garage has hurt the community, and she has seen that pain from older residents having to walk further when they want to take part in city events.

The next step in the process is bidding out to different companys to determine which one will build the garage.

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