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Bloomington Council Delays Arts Commission Vote

Bloomington City Council meets remotely Monday, Sept. 28.

The Bloomington City Council opted Monday to delay a vote on creating a public arts commission, with members saying they first must resolve questions about how the commission would be funded, and who would be represented among its volunteers.

While voicing general support for the commission, the council agreed unanimously at the remote meeting to table the vote until Oct. 26.

Council member Joni Painter said she’s all for the arts, but didn't feel the commission proposal was ready for a vote. “Some details still need to be hammered out,” she said, including how people would get to have a say in what art is displayed, and how the art would be funded.

Council members Jenn Carrillo and Scott Black said a public hearing on the matter might be in order. 

Carrillo said Monday’s discussion showed the issues of funding and commission makeup were very different, and of special interest to different council members.  

 “When we come back to look at what we’re actually going to pass, these two issues should be treated separately,” she said.

The proposed commission would select what art should be allowed in city parks and on city buildings,  along sidewalks and other city property.

The volunteer panel would include three mayoral appointees, along with members of the city’s beautification committee and cultural commission. The seven-member board would set guidelines and make recommendations to the city council.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council voted to take initial steps toward changing language in its zoning code as it relates to neighborhoods surrounding downtown; authorized the city’s finance staff to apply for a COVID-relief program, and heard a presentation on a proposed update to Bloomington’s sign ordinance.

Melissa Hon, Bloomington’s Economic and Community Development director, told the council the sign rules last were revised in 1998, and require changes that reflect two decades of changes in the law, and changes in technology. Consultants have worked with the city since June 2019, to conduct community outreach on the issue.

John Houseal, of Houseal Lavigne Associates, said the main findings of the commission call for revising allowed-sign sizes to be more proportional with buildings, addressing new technology such as digital signs, and taking geographical factors into consideration--such as signs rules on Veterans Parkway differing from signs in a historic downtown area.

Council members Jamie Mathy and Donna Boelen each said they’d been getting a lot of questions about the sign code from businesses and property owners. Mathy urged the city to coordinate a presentation with the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, to allow residents to discuss the proposal’s final draft. 

Alderman Jeff Crabill also said he wants more public feedback, wondering if the sign ordinance changes being considered are overreaching. He said he didn’t think the survey of 67 people was a big enough pool. And council member Julie Emig said regardless of what changes are made, she thinks a phased-in approach is the best option.

City planner Katie Simpson said the proposed final draft is on the city’s website.

Also, as part of its consent agenda, the council voted to change outdated wording on city code requirements for election signs, citing the need to bring the city in line with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling on such signs. The wording of the code, dating back to the 1980s, had required preregistration of such signs, according to city council documents.

R-D Downtown Residential District

In another matter, the council voted unanimously for staff to take initial steps toward amending the Bloomington zoning ordinance and associated maps--specifically relating to neighborhoods near the downtown, and the redevelopment of multi-family housing in those areas.

After fielding questions from council members who wanted to table the vote and get more community feedback, City Manager Tim Gleason clarified Monday’s vote doesn’t authorize wording changes. Instead, he said it only OKs plans for staff to seek feedback on the proposed wording and map changes. 

Houseal said his company has been working with Bloomington since April 2019 on the R-D district, since residents in those areas reacted negatively to some of the original zoning language, and how the policy made the mixed-residential areas a setting for one-size-fits-all "intense redevelopment."

Now, he said proposed wording looks at the area on a block-by-block basis, and focuses on development, with tighter limitations, and in ways that maintain the character of the neighborhoods.


The COVID-19 pandemic came up at several points at Monday’s meeting. 

In a financial update, Finance Director Scott Rathbun said the city continues to revise its budget projections. In July, Bloomington projected an $8.5 million negative impact to its general fund. But, as of now, it’s much better, with a $4.7 million negative impact. Rathbun said he expects to return to the council in October with an improved figure, based on increased revenue the city is seeing. 

The council authorized staff to apply for financial help to recoup losses related to the pandemic through the Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (CURE) Suppor program. Gleason told the council applying for the program, could allow Bloomington to be reimbursed for losses suffered from COVID-related expenses. He said $3.1 million was allocated.

The council also discussed how the pandemic might affect Halloween observations in Bloomington, and how restaurants' outdoor dining setups may change, as colder temperatures arrive.

Gleason said the city has several activities planned for October, including Downtown Halloween’s Virtual Party on Oct. 30. But traditional trick-or treating is not going to occur. City administrators continue to look at alternatives, he said.

Renner said he’s been fielding many community questions about what Halloween will look like. Black encouraged Gleason and the council to start planning now for changes needed for outdoor dining. Gleason noted restaurants' streetside tents also may impact snow removal.

Welcoming City Ordinance

Although not on Monday’s agenda, Bloomington's immigrant community was a topic discussed in the meeting’s public comments, when six speakers argued the council should renew efforts to pass a welcoming city ordinance.

Its been two years since the council voted down the proposal--which sought limits on cooperation between Bloomington Police and federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  But on Monday, outside the city council meeting, an immigrants' rights rally was organized in response to news coverage that ICE had been forcing women to have hysterectomies, without proper consent.

Each public commenter entered "City Hall, approached the microphone, and had their comments streamed to the remote meeting. They urged the council to bring back the proposed ordinance for another vote.

Among commenters was Cecelia Long, a Ward 4 resident, who spoke against the relationship the local police and local government have with ICE. She called the federal agency a broken system that destroys lives. She argued aganst ICE's record in family separations, and child detentions.

Long and other speakers also referred to the recent news coverage of an ICE whistleblower saying the agency's doctors forced hysterectomies on female detainees.  Long criticized Bloomington for failing to pass the welcoming city ordinance in 2018, while Normal successfully passed one that same year.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved changes to the video gaming license rules, including aligning the waiting periods to 180 days for both video gaming applications and liquor license applications, as well as making some changes to required paperwork.
  • Appointed Willie Halbert Horton to the John M. Scott Health Care Commission, with a term ending April 2021; Becky Alticto to the Citizens’ Beautification Committee, with a term ending April 2023; and re-appointed Rob Fazzini to the Public Building Commission, with a term ending September 2025.
  • Approved spending up to about $188,000 with Tempe, Ariz.-based US Digital Designs to switch to a new alert system, for calls, in Bloomington Fire Department’s five stations and the Bloomington dispatch office, located in Bloomington Police Department. 
  • Approved spending about $180,000 on a backhoe loader, from Altorfer Cat of East Peoria; as well as a request to auction off a 7-year-old backhoe. The equipment mainly is used for sewer work.
  • Approved spending $70,000 on a brush chipper from Goodfield-based Vermeer Sales and Service of Illinois. The chipper is used for trees on city property.
  • Approved a special-use permit and site plans for the construction of a Speed Lube 10-Minute Oil Change station at 1209 Holiday Drive, just north of Illinois 9 and the Veterans Parkway/Interstate 55 junction. 
  • Amended the zoning maps for 808 S. Morris Ave., 806  S. Morris Ave., and 829 W. Elm St., to R-2 mixed residence district. 

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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