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Q&A: Bloomington mayor wants to include White Place property in larger zoning discussion

Two stone columns connected by a black arch with the words White Place inscribed
Eric Stock
Several residents of White Place are urging the city council to intervene to stop a rental housing development in the neighborhood.

Residents of the White Place neighborhood northeast of downtown Bloomington want the city to stop a planned nine-unit apartment development in their neighborhood. They say it's a zoning issue and a safety concern.

Several residents raised their concerns at Monday night's city council meeting. Two city council members have requested the matter be placed on a future city council agenda.

In this interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said he's looking for more information from city staff on the issue.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

MM: I think rather than having a zoning hearing for a specific property, maybe a good conversation for the council would be to just talk about zoning in general, instead of a single property. I think that that would be a much more efficient way of looking at things.

Mboka Mwilambwe
Mboka Mwilambwe

WGLT: Is this part of a broader concern? This is not a one-off then? It sounds like that's what you're saying?

MM: To be honest, I don't know. That's something that that's certainly worth taking a look at, and see if we're seeing patterns and things like that. So, I'm not entirely sure if that's something that we'd have to double check on.

WGLT: The property had been vacant for over a year. The residents in the White Place neighborhood say they were told for rental units in the property would be developed, and then it became nine units. Does that raise a red flag for you?

MM: I know that the city manager (Tim Gleason) is going to share, at some point, given all the interest that we have in this property, share more information, about the construction permit, but also information, just about, the history of the property so that everybody has the same base information. Because when people have concerns, there's a lot of information that's shared back and forth, but you don't always necessarily know what is fact? And what is hearsay and that kind of thing? So I think at some point, I think it will be timely for the city manager to share that that information that he had. That's factual.

WGLT: It sounds like you're suggesting that some of the information that has been put out there by residents of White Place has not been correct. Is there anything that they're saying that's not accurate?

MM: I wouldn't necessarily say that. I'm only speaking from the standpoint of what the city has, you know, that way people have all of the (information). So, I think it’s important for the city to be able to share that information. Then that will kind of establish a baseline.

WGLT: What do you say to residents of that area, who feel that the building itself could be a hazard given that there may not be easy access to the street for some of those residents and the need for additional parking that they say is not adequate. And the number of kids who are going to be out in the neighborhood with more and more vehicle traffic, and they feel that that is a traffic concern, and a safety concern for their children. How do you address that?

MM: Well, I think that the best thing to do is one to have communication with the person who is going to, you know, who purchased the property. That's why, I'm referring back to the construction permit and what this individual the owner is intending to do, because I think, I would think that the owner also has the safety of those in in the you know, in the area at heart and go from there and then we also have inspectors (who) can inspect a property and make sure that everything is in proper order.

(WGLT's attempts to reach the building's listed owner, Yousuf Sayeed and Sun Down Express LLC, have been unsuccessful.)

WGLT: The city council recently approved a reorganization to split the Public Works Department into three departments: Public Works, Water, and Operations and Engineering Services. Now shortly after city manager Tim Gleason became city manager five years ago, one of the first things he did was to move water under public works. We were told this was a more efficient way of doing things. How is going in the exact opposite direction five years later also an efficiency?

MM: Yeah. Well, I think, five years ago when he did that it, as you know, we were under different circumstances. So we were having, for example, some difficulties being able to hire managers for the water department. And directors, I should say so, and he saw an opportunity there for a little bit more efficiency. And I think, you know, it also allowed us to kind of reduce, you know, a couple of (full-time employees). So, saving us, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000-plus dollars, So we're able to save that. So now I think we are at a period of time where there are increasing demands on city staff in public works, lots of projects.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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