The City of Bloomington is moving forward with a road improvement project linked to expansion of the Luther Oaks retirement community, but without universal City Council support.
Longtime Luther Oaks resident Laura Baue and her husband Charles have championed the need to improve Lutz Road for more than 12 years. She says something had to be done sooner or later.
“It’s exciting, it’s gratifying,” Baue said, calling the agreement a “win-win” proposal. “It’s a relief because we’ve been trying to get this taken care of since Luther Oaks opened. When people moved in out there we knew that that road needed to be upgraded.”
The project calls for Bloomington to pay up to $980,000 up front toward upgrading the narrow road on the city’s southwest side, while Luther Oaks pledges to spend $1.5 million over five years on campus development.
“We’re really happy that we were able to get across the finish line,” said Luther Oaks Executive Director Doug Rutter. “This has been an issue that our residents have been passionate about for over 12 years.
“We’re really pleased at the creativity and the openness by the city manager’s office, their willingness to have conversations with us to find a solution to really fulfill a promise that previous administrations had made but hadn’t been able to keep.”
Deputy city manager Billy Tyus said the campus expansion will raise the property value and translate to an increase in tax revenue for the city. He added it is not uncommon for municipalities to make infrastructure improvements as an incentive for development.
“The Luther Oaks team was interested in expanding but they couldn’t see the feasibility of pursuing that if there weren’t going to be road improvements there,” he said.
Council member Jenn Carrillo entered the lone vote against the agreement, saying she felt there were other ways to solve the issue and other areas needing attention.
“It’s really hard to go back to my own constituents who live in some of the oldest parts of town that haven’t seen a significant investment in infrastructure and say, ‘Oh, we’re spending $1 million to redo this road that serves a very small population, relatively,’” she said.
Council member Donna Boelen countered that position by noting the neighborhood features nearly 200 living units, houses residents needing round-the-clock attention from medical professionals, provides more than 150 jobs and employs vendors that need a quality access road.
“There’s a lot of economic impact in that community, whether someone recognizes it or not,” Boelen said.
Julie Emig said the city can undertake this project without neglecting other areas.
“I agree that we cannot abdicate our responsibility to repair infrastructure citywide. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive,” said Emig. “I maintain that we can prioritize the need to improve facilities for our growing elderly population as a gateway to potential economic expansion and development. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the entire city and the needs of all.”
Carrillo concurred with other council members who called Lutz Road “substandard” and “unsuitable,” and stressed that she empathizes with the residents’ concerns.
“That's not to say those folks aren’t as important or they don’t deserve a good road; everybody should have a good roads. But we’ve got to have priorities and I don’t think it’s fair to make the taxpayers of today pay for the mistakes of councils past,” Carrillo said.
“If we were talking about a road to a library or a school, my vote would’ve been different. But Luther Oaks is a private facility, and to me that makes all the difference.”
Tyus said the agreement includes a provision that allows the city to request repayment of the road improvement costs if Luther Oaks does not satisfy the $1.5 million expansion requirement.
“We don’t expect things to come to that,” said Tyus. “This was a great discussion; it was great working with them and we look forward to what is going to happen.”
Rutter acknowledged the agreement does not explicitly require Luther Oaks to add more living units, but said that is part of the long-range plan.
“We have the appropriate common space for the residents we have now. But before we would add additional living units and bring new people onto the campus, we need more common space to be able to accommodate their needs as well,” he said. “So this part of the project really has to come first. We anticipate that there will be future living units added to the campus in future years.”
Baue is satisfied in knowing her long wait for a better road is coming to an end.
“I felt all along that they would like to do it but the money just wasn’t there, and now they’ve come up with a plan that’s win-win for Luther Oaks and for the city to get the street finished,” she said. “I am just thrilled.”
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