Minutes of SPECIAL NWSNA Meeting May 2, 2019 on BCL Variance Petition

At the May 2 meeting, the NWS Neighborhood Association decided to send a letter supporting Bloomington Cooperative Living’s Variance Petition for the property at 921 W. 9th St.  Minutes of that meeting follow. In some cases I was not always able to identify who asked which question. I have also abridged some of the questions and answers for clarity.  To listen to a recording of the meeting click this link: recording

The BCL Variance Petition goes before the Planning Commission on May 13 at 5:30pm.

Minutes of SPECIAL NWSNA Meeting May 2, 2019 to Discuss BCL Variance Petition

 Present:  President Alan Balkema, Vice President Sandi Clothier, Secretary Olivia Dorfman, Board Members at Large Rocky Festa and Karen Duffy. Representatives of Bloomington Cooperative Living Bradi Heaberlin and Hugh Farrell. People from the neighborhood: Vernon Sweeney, Tim Clougher, Leslie Skooglund, Jon Wunrow, Jean Graham, Karlyn Grise, Peter Dorfman, Nate Johnson, Glorianne Leck, Mark Turner, Sara Colvard, Kel McBride, Joe Neukam, Zandro Pliemann, Fiona Taggart

The meeting was held in the kitchen of the Banneker Center. Alan Balkema called the meeting to order at 5:00 pm. Alan Balkema explained the reason for the short notice in calling this meeting, i.e., that the Near West Side Neighborhood Association (NWSNA) had a very narrow time window in which to have the NWSNA response the Bloomington Cooperative Living (BCL) Variance Petition included in the packet of materials provided to the Planning Commission on May 3, ahead of their meeting with  BCL on May 13.

Representatives of BCL Bradi Heaberline and Hugh Farrell explained their involvement with the group and the nature of their organization. They described the group’s proposed project to reconfigure the structure at 921 W. 9th St. into an affordable, cooperative living house that would accommodate families as well as individuals.

Alan Balkema explained that single-family zoning is eliminated in the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and that the NWSNA’s endorsement of the variance might suggest that the neighborhood supports this sort of increased density throughout the neighborhood.  He then invited discussion.

Q: In your petition you are requesting a variance for parking: what is the current restriction on parking and what would the variance on parking gain?

A: Hugh Farrell: We are asserting, based on experience, that our members tend to have fewer cars. We are planning for 2/3 of the normal parking, and we’re also planning on putting a permeable parking lot in back of the property, so we will be adding parking.

Q: Rocky Festa: So how many parking spaces are you asking for?

A:HF:  Six to eight.

Q: Were you going to ask the city to designate street parking for you or are you just talking about parking on your land behind the house?

A:  The only parking we are asking for as a designated spot is for a handicapped parking spot in front of the house to be sure that there’s access to the ramp we’ll be putting in.

Q: So you won’t have any designated spots on 9th St.?

A: HF: No. And the handicapped spot won’t be designated Co-op parking.

Comment: The parking’s really awful there with the baseball. I have a house there, and sometimes my tenants have to drive in circles because they can’t find a place to park.

Q: Peter Dorfman: That was a concern I have, and also because of Girls Inc.  In the summer time, Girls Inc. is extremely busy, so it’s not just parking, it’s also a huge amount of traffic. And as I read your petition, you have five spaces in the back and the application spells out 8 street parking permits.

A: Tim Clougher:  So there’s only permits to Maple, there aren’t permits past Maple in this direction, Maple is where it ends.  And Girls Inc., I agree that you have traffic but theirs is “drop off and go” because the girls are there during the day in the summer.  There’s also a parking lot by Butler park, which maybe in the time I’ve lived here I’ve seen full a couple of times.

Comment: Christine Lovelace: [Statement of positive support for the proposal]. I’m hoping we can all frame the conversation into identifying the things that might be hard or problematic and resolving them.

Comment:  Jon Wunrow:  The house has been a horrible eyesore and I can only imagine it will look better than it has. I hope that part of your plan is to make it look nicer because the value of all our homes goes up.

[Discussion of the history of the property]

Comment: Olivia Dorfman: Some comments in response to the message sent out on the Listserv–this comment is from Beth Ellis:  “I don’t take issue with having a local, well-managed Co-op in the neighborhood. However, I am concerned about the building…it was in terrible shape.  I am concerned that it can be made habitable, and if they do an okay but not great job with the rehab, I’m worried about who would be willing to live there.

A: HF:  We are trying to be careful structuring our petition to move in reference to the Co-op zoning designation that was made for our first owned property on Madison. So basically the City created a Co-op designation and specified that it could only be employed as a variance.  So it would not open up this neighborhood or any other to private, and especially unaffordable development. [Explanation of property owner’s previous for-profit plans. Explanation of architect and builder they are working with.  Explanation of financing.]

Q: Olivia Dorfman: BCL owns the building, so the people who live there are not true Co-op owners?

A:Bradi Heaberlin: There are Equity and Non-equity Cooperatives: In an Equity Cooperative you have a financial, long-term stake that you can put in and pull out, but in this situation this is localized, this will be here as people flow through it, people can make it a better place and stay there for as long as their membership, but it’s not an equity.

Q: What’s your requirement to live there?

A: BH: There’s a membershipping process.  People self-select and we work to make sure it’s a good fit.  We put out an open call, but we’re also wise about it.

Q: Is it adults only or are children allowed. Does the 19 include children?

A: HF: The 19 includes children.  The plan is to create suites that are family specific spaces, two bedrooms, a bath, and  a private living space.

Q:  How many suites will be in the building?

A:HF: There’s six suites.

Q: Is there a requirement for membership or will this be transient?

A: HF: Generally, one year.

Q: What happens to the building if the Co-op doesn’t work?

A: BH: We make it work.  We’ve had moments when a house is in a transition, but we know there will times when there are things we have to figure out. [Explanation of how the oversight of the Board works]

Q: How many people that are on the Board live in the Co-op?

A:  The Board is, maybe, 9 people, and all but 3 live in a Co-op.  I’m staff and I have lived in the Co-op and will live again in the fall.

Q:  What happens to this asset if the Co-op dissolves?

A:HF: If we were to collapse, the zoning would be specific to our 501 3C, so it would have to go through another zoning variance or someone would have to buy it as a single family house.

Q: I want to go visit your other properties and talk to the neighbors. I’m concerned about property values adjacent to or nearby.

A: The Madison house is surrounded by commercial properties, and the other two [which are rental properties] are close to campus and the landlord has been very happy with the relationship–he’s not receiving any complaints.

Q:  So the adjacent housing is also rental properties. This will be the first one where you’re actually going into a single family neighborhood.

A:BH:  Yes, and it will be lots of families as well.  The ones that have been close to campus have been largely students.  This one will be very intentionally family-oriented.

Q:Rocky Festa: This isn’t really a single-family neighborhood, because I live across from a triplex and we have students renting all up and down Maple St.  What about pets?  There’s cats all over this neighborhood, I don’t mean to offend anybody, and also dogs. Barking dogs can be really irritating.

A:BH: With the other houses, people in the house collectively make that decision.  Given that the 921 property is family-oriented, it will need to have guidance from the Board to answer questions such as this.

Comment: Alan Balkema: We do have to be out of here at 5:45. We have three options: be on record for this, against this, or nothing. And anyone in here has a right to show up at the Plan Commission. I would like to get a reading from the people that are here–I’m going to call this a representative sample of the neighborhood–where we are as far as this particular 921 project. I’m going to ask for a show of hands.

Q: Before we do that, Olivia, what about the comments and questions submitted from people online who couldn’t be here?

A: Olivia Dorfman: There were not a lot of questions, mostly comments, mostly positive. The one concern is that the variance will be specific to cooperative living, because people don’t want to see the building suddenly turn into a market-rate, multi-unit apartment house.

A:BH:  I just want to emphasize that we share that interest, we don’t want to see that happen.

Q: Sandi Clothier: Is there an intent to have a neighborhood group that you would work within the neighborhood if there were issues that came up?

A:BH: We would try to respond to that. We have some experience inviting people in to mediate, having the Board do a mediating role. We want to have a strong sense of being able to talk to each other. One example, we’ve been hosting community dinners at one of our houses, which allows the Co-op to interface and engage with anyone who wants to come. It’s a positive version, but we also have mediation if we need it.

Q:Sandi Clothier: One of the issues I have is how this gets used when the UDO comes up. Having spoken with the council people running for and already in office, to get a sense of whether they would consider this precedent setting for the proposal in the UDO to create duplexes on the corners. That is my only concern is how it gets applied.

A:BH: There’s something in there about living together sustainably and being affordable and based on community.  It’s not a precedent, in that we will still be fighting for affordable housing and not something that would be luxury housing, condos.

C: Peter Dorfman: Do you have an engineering assessment that this building is structurally sound?

A:HF: We’ve not gone to an engineer. [The architect and builder’s] evaluation is that the bones are solid. There will need to be an extremely serious scraping and gutting of the inside.

Alan Balkema: So we’re going to go ahead with the vote now.  Who wants the neighborhood to send a letter in favor of this?  That looks pretty much like [yes].

Olivia Dorfman: But this does not mean that we will not go to the meeting with public comments to make sure the City follows your intention that this will be affordable cooperative living.

Rocky Festa: Do we have enough Board members here to do a motion?  I move that we write a letter in favor.

[Unclear]: I second it.

The motion passed. Rocky Festa agreed to write the letter to the Planning Commission. The meeting adjourned at 5:45.

Submitted by Olivia Dorfman

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