Next Sunday (December 4), Bloomington’s Near West Side Conservation District will become a historic district.
That is based on a city council decision that was made three years earlier. In a unanimous vote in December 2019, the council voted to establish the Near West Side as a conservation district.
It is the area roughly bounded on the north by the railroad right-of-way along Butler Park, on the south by Kirkwood Avenue, and on the west by North Adams, shown in green on the maps included with this article.
At just under 100 acres, by land area, it will be Bloomington’s largest historic district.
The difference between a conservation district and a historic district is more than just the label.
In a historic district, any exterior alterations are subject to review by the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC). In a conservation district, only buildings are being moved or demolished, or new buildings are constructed that are subject to HPC review.
No further approval from the city council was needed to make the conversion next week. In historic preservation terms, the conversion is called the “elevation” of the conservation district to a historic district.
Under state statutes and local laws, conversion to a historic district is automatic unless enough property owners object in writing.
Among property owners who responded to a recent city survey, nearly three-quarters objected.
Responding to a question from The B Square, Bloomington Historic Preservation Program Manager Gloria Colom Braña said 120 voted against the elevation and 41 voted in favor.
But that’s not how a majority is determined to challenge the elevation of a conservation district.
It is not the majority of property owners who responded to the survey that have to oppose to prevent the elevation of the conservation district to a historic district. is the majority of owners in the district they have to oppose.
To reach that majority, 50 percent of the 373 owners in the district, or 187 owners, would have had to oppose it, according to Colom Braña. The 120 property owners who opposed it fell 67 votes short of blocking the elevation of the conservation district to a historic district.
At a June briefing hosted by the Near West Side Neighborhood Association, NWSNA board member Olivia Dorfman laid out the timing and eligibility of the vote.
Under Bloomington City Code, the time to file an objection must be between 180 and 60 days before the three-year anniversary date for the establishment of the conservation district. For the NWS conservation district, that translated to a window between June 7 and October 5 of this year.
That explains the dates of the mail sent by the city to the owners. An initial ballot was sent, followed by a reminder postcard, according to Colom Braña.
At the briefing, Dorfman also laid out who was eligible to vote. They are property owners, whether they own more than one property or co-own a single property. That means if there are eight people on a deed, each of the eight people gets one vote, Dorfman said. But if someone owns 10 houses, he still gets only one vote.
Three years ago, the establishment of the NWS conservation district was not a matter of controversy for the council.
Historic preservation program manager Conor Herterich then described to the city council how the group of residents who had organized the effort to establish the preservation district had held the three legally required meetings. But then they had decided to call three additional meetings, based on various concerns that had been raised by attendees.
The organizers had also decided to hold a referendum on the issue, in which there were 70 votes in favor and 47 against (60 percent in favor), Herterich told the city council at a committee meeting on November 6, 2019. .
The NWS conservation district meets five of 10 possible criteria for designation, Herterich told city council three years ago. The council meeting information packet summarizes those criteria as this
(A) Has significant character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural features of the city, state, or nation; or is associated with a person who played a significant role in local, state, or national history; either
Staff recommendation: “because of its significant value as part of the development of the city of Bloomington because it served as housing for workers in commercial and industrial enterprises on the west side of the city.”
(C) It exemplifies the cultural, political, economic, social or historical heritage of the community;
Staff recommendation: “Because it’s tied to Showers Furniture Factory’s progressive hiring policy that gave working-class members of the community the opportunity to earn a living wage and establish housing in the Near West Side neighborhood. The district also protects many civic, religious, and residential structures that are important markers for understanding and celebrating black history in Bloomington.”
(ME) Contains any architectural style, detail, or other element in danger of being lost; either
Staff recommendation: “because [it] it protects a range of historic architectural forms and styles that are now in grave danger of being lost through demolition or abandonment. As Bloomington’s largest collection of historic vernacular house types, the Near West Side includes multiple recognizable examples of shotgun, double pen, pannier, center hall, parlor and parlor, and other traditional house forms that are increasingly rare in the city”.
(F) Because of its unique location or physical features, it represents an established and familiar visual feature of the city; either
Staff recommendation: “because the city’s narrow streets, densely packed houses, historic architectural forms and styles, alleyway network, limestone retaining walls, brick sidewalks, and mature trees come together to form a familiar visual pattern. that communicates the origins of the district at the beginning of the 20th century”.
(GRAM) It exemplifies the built environment in an era of history characterized by a distinctive architectural style.
Staff recommendation: “because the built environment of the district, which includes the streetscape and the buildings, maintains great integrity and still conveys the distinctive architectural character of its period of construction.”