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Bloomington council approves resurfacing program, annexation for solar project

Government Center building
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT file
The Government Center in downtown Bloomington.

Bloomington City Council members on Monday approved plans to annex land on Washington Street to allow construction of a community-scale solar energy project. They also waived the formal bidding process for a resurfacing and pavement preservation program to update streets and sidewalks.

Two individuals impacted by the annexation spoke during public comment at the meeting. Eric and Dawn Haney live on a property that is surrounded by the land that will be annexed by Bloomington. They both expressed concerns about how the solar energy project will impact their lives and lifestyles.

Eric Haney described his and his wife’s home as an “island” amid the annexed property. He said they chose to live in the county as opposed to in the city to enjoy nature, be able to have barbecues with friends and family, and to safely practice shooting on their land. He said he believes all of this will end because of the project's proximity to his property.

Dawn Haney thinks once the solar energy project is constructed, “I will feel like I live in a prison at that point.” She and her husband believe that their home will no longer be surrounded by nature, and that the outdoor activities they participate in will no longer be enjoyable or safe.

The Haneys asked the city to consider placing the solar farm's perimeter further back, as it would be if the county annexed the land instead of the city as was originally proposed. They also pointed out that other countries require similar projects to be further removed from residential properties.

Some council members hoped to address some of these concerns during the discussion period, but were informed by city staff, including city manager Jeff Jurgens, that their decision and lines of discussion had to be made specifically based on the minutes from the planning meetings, not on public comments or other concerns that may occur to individual council members.

Kelly Pfeifer, assistant economic and community development director, said residents’ concerns were addressed in the proposed plan. An evergreen buffer around the perimeter of the solar facility will be planted in order to address concerns about both visual and noise pollution from the project.

Ward 3 council member Sheila Montney wanted to pursue discussion on the issue, but set it aside after the reminder from city staff.

“If we’re disallowed to explore this, it’s OK. It’s just, for me, I’m trying to understand in a thoughtful way the differences and how we got here today,” she said, referring to the differences in distance requirements between the county and the city.

“I certainly don’t want to introduce additional risk through just simply trying to understand so I can vote appropriately,” Montney continued after further reminders from city staff that the council was required to vote only on the basis of the specific documents they were provided with prior to the meeting.

“I do think setting aside this particular issue and this discussion that we’re having now, we should or could perhaps foresee other situations in the future where our requirements perhaps are more lenient than surrounding governmental entities, and I think we should develop a point of view on that,” said Montney, adding potential conflicts between different arms of government could arise in the future.

After the discussion period, all council members voted in favor of annexing the properties.

Resurfacing program

The council also heard an overview of street resurfacing and pavement preservation programs for the coming year.

Director of Operations and Engineering Services Kevin Kothe said there are many concrete streets in Bloomington that have “seriously distressed” sections, though overall most Bloomington streets and sidewalks have a score of “6” on a 10-point scale, indicating they are in decent shape.

After the presentation, Ward 7 council member Mollie Ward requested a map or list of streets and sidewalks that will be repaired, along with the city’s assessment scores of both on the 10-point scale, be made publicly available.

“I could foresee that,” Jurgens said. The council went on to approve the city’s request to waive the formal bidding process for the project.

“This council’s done a lot,” said Jurgens, referring to addressing the condition of city streets. “But with the action you approved tonight you will probably be best known as the council that finally fixed GE Road.”

He added that he thinks the community will “be very happy” when the work is completed.

As part of its consent agenda, the council also approved new collective bargaining agreements for the Unit 21 Police Patrol and IATSE Local 193, as well as an annual application for the Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Adeline Schultz is a correspondent at WGLT. She joined the station in 2024.