Minutes of the August 18 NWSNA Meeting

Peter Dorfman called the meeting to order several minutes behind schedule because of a Zoom glitch. Alan Balkema, Bill Baus, Bruce Calloway (Duke Energy), Sita Cohen, Ann Connor, Olivia Dorfman, Peter Dorfman, Karen Duffy, Rocky Festa, Natalia Galvan, Jean Graham, Margaret Key, Abe Morris, Joe Neukam, Tom Payne, Doris Sims (HAND), Cheryl Sweeney, Vernon Sweeney, and  Angela Van Rooy (HAND) were in attendance.

Peter Dorfman noted that Zoom would time the meeting out at 40 minutes but invited all attendees to rejoin when that happened. He noted that future meetings would be conducted using a paid Zoom account courtesy of Tom Payne.

Old Business

Alan Balkema noted that he and Jean Graham had collected material on invasive plant species removal and posted it in the Facebook neighborhood group. He indicated interest had been shown.

Treasurers Report:

No change in accounts.

Bruce Calloway, Government & Community Relations Manager for Duke Energy (South Central Indiana), discussed the August 1 incident at a rental house at West 8th Street and Williams Street. A tree fell, broke a pole and brought down service at that one house. Bruce estimated the call came in about 9:30 pm. The service crew determined they needed to replace the pole and run new service wire. A tree crew was needed. Work began at “close to midnight.” The work involved multiple chainsaws, awakening neighbors; working finished about 4:00 am. “We had a customer without power, and we had a responsibility to get them back,” Bruce explained. This is Duke’s policy, whether it’s a single customer or multiple sites.

Bill Baus expressed gratitude for the crews getting the work done in a timely manner, and several other attendees concurred. Cheryl Sweeney disagreed, suggesting the work could have been done the following morning when people were awake. Alan Balkema noted that rights of way in the neighborhood are often overgrown with vegetation and expressed concern that this could cause much more frequent outages. Bruce noted that Duke trims power lines between properties, but is not responsible for overgrowth affecting service lines immediately feeding homes, except in cases where a line is actually down. He said the homeowner bears the responsibility for these lines and suggested engaging a private trimmer to keep them clear of overgrowth. (Duke will temporarily drop power to the service lines so they can be trimmed safely.) Bill Baus noted that he had used this service and there was no charge for it from Duke. He added that alley rights of way are the city’s responsibility, but easements on individual properties are the responsibility of the homeowner.

Abe Morris asked how best to report overgrowth on a power line on public property and ask Duke to trim it. Bruce suggested calling 800-521-2232, or contacting the company via duke-energy.com. He also suggested homeowners sign up for proactive outage alerts by text message.

Olivia Dorfman asked about maintenance of lines in alleyways, and whether the adjoining homeowner is responsible for keeping the alley clear for Duke’s equipment to drive on. Bruce indicated Duke has equipment that can drive over rough surfaces and will find a way into most alleys. Rocky Festa noted that her understanding is that when an alley runs between two properties, the owner of each property is responsible for maintaining its own half of the alley. Angela Van Rooy (HAND) offered to research this point. Joe Neukam noted that he had used the uReport system to alert the city to obstructed alleys and that the city had responded to those reports.

Doris Sims, Director of HAND, discussed the City of Bloomington’s Housing Study. Doris noted that one reason the city commissioned the study was that Regional Opportunity Inc. (ROI), a development advocacy group, had done an 11-county study of the Upland region of southern Indiana that included an assessment of housing needs in Monroe County. The city wanted a “deeper dive” into the needs of the City of Bloomington. The city invited neighborhood associations, realtors, developers, members of the general public, city council members and rental property owners to participate. Unsurprisingly, Doris noted, much of Bloomington’s rental housing is student housing. The consultants broke Bloomington up into “themed areas.” For the west side, the study noted pressure on neighborhoods as more student housing is built (including a couple of larger buildings along Rogers Street).

Doris said the study noted the interest among west side core neighborhoods in preserving their neighborhood character and the types of housing stock (mainly single-family) already there, while looking for infill possibilities, including accessory dwelling units and smaller multiplex housing (duplexes). The study estimates the city needs about 250 new housing units built per year to keep up with population growth, and describes various programs for encouraging and financing that housing stock growth. Doris estimated the hospital site will become available about 18 months after demolition; the city also has had granted by a developer 45 additional single-family building sites. She noted that the city has devoted much of its attention in the four years of the Hamilton Administration to rental housing, but that the mayor’s Recover Forward policy package encourages more home ownership as a way to stabilize neighborhoods.

Peter Dorfman provided some observations specific to the Near West Side, which in the study is included in a somewhat larger “themed area” that takes in part of Crestwood, the Habitat for Humanity houses on Moravec Way and areas west of Adams. He found that this area is 32.8% owner-occupied. Other observations on the Near West Side:

  • $148,900 median home value – lower than Prospect Hill, higher than McDoel Gardens, much less than “campus halo” neighborhoods like Bryan Park;
  • $813 median contract rent – Same as Prospect Hill, lower than McDoel, higher than Bryan Park;
  • 5% of owner-occupied units owned by people over 55 – highest among West Side core neighborhoods;
  • $22,962 median household income – except for Crestmont and the area west of us, the lowest in the entire city;
  • 2% of homeowner households cost-burdened highest rate among all core or “campus halo” neighborhoods;
  • 9% of renter households cost-burdened – more than Prospect Hill or McDoel, less than Bryan Park;
  • Value to Income ratio 4.5 (“Very unaffordable”) worst among West Side core neighborhoods;
  • Net: Near West Side is very unaffordable, but not because homes are particularly expensive. It’s because incomes are so low.

Doris noted that the data for the area does not line up with the neighborhood boundaries – it lines up with census tracts, and includes student housing (which would depress income statistics). Asked what would now be done with the housing study, she suggested it might be handed off to a private organization for further analysis.

Peter Dorfman provided feedback on the Hospital Site Redevelopment project. He attended the second of four public meetings on this project on August 6, and expressed some concerns about the process. Specifically he observed that the intent of the redevelopment often expressed in 2019, during the public debate over densification of the core neighborhoods – that the large site could absorb much of the housing density that otherwise might be imposed on the surrounding core neighborhoods – seems to have been downgraded. Attendees were asked to evaluate three different proposed site plans, all of which emphasized a lot of public green space and seemed intended to demonstrate a future urban design that, while forward-looking, does not seem likely to absorb a lot of density or include housing likely to be “affordable” by any definition focused on meeting the needs of low-income Bloomingtonians.

The designs seem based on data suggesting Bloomington’s near-term population growth would be primarily in two demographic segments: Young Seniors (55-74), including retirees, and Young Adults (25-34) who will be looking for workforce housing. Those population segments are relatively affluent; they are not the low-income people who were the focus of last year’s density discussions. The poor seem to have been pushed to the side in the Hospital Site Redevelopment discussion. Peter encouraged neighborhood residents who share his reservations to attend future meetings and make their feelings known about the present set of designs.

The meeting ended around 8:20.

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