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I attended the candidate’s night last night at the Culver Depot. Thank you to Kathy Clark, Jeff Kenney and Bill Githens for helping arrange it.
First off, let me repeat my mantra regarding these things: These are volunteers putting themselves out there so I cut them a lot of slack. That mainly applies to the Council candidates since the clerk’s position is a paid position, but even that is a public position where keeping your job is as much a popularity contest as it is an assessment of your skill.
The event was set up as a “get to know the candidates” forum as opposed to a debate. It was very easy to see that some were comfortable with public speaking while others weren’t. Weeding through that, it was a matter of determining what they were saying as opposed to how they said it. While I did form some opinions, suffice to say that I’m going to keep those to myself for now. I was there because even though I can’t vote for them, their decisions will affect my business and property.
If I had to pick up the major themes that came out last night, the three that I thought came through the most strongly were Affordable Housing, Community and Fiscal Responsibility. I’ve written a lot on my feelings about the need for affordable housing in Culver and how that can bolster our community. Those discussions were the most pertinent to me. All of the candidates made some statement regarding the importance of affordable housing and community even before it was presented to them as the main question coming from the audience. While I feel the current council lost their sense of urgency on these issues this past month, I do agree that they have made positive strides and I have hopes that whatever the new mix is, the Council continues to move things forward next year.
Beyond the housing issue, community was addressed through various advocacy efforts and questions regarding how we can fill the vacant store fronts. An item of merit was the call for surveys and interviews. I appreciated the acknowledgment that just shooting at these issues in the dark was not the way to go. There was also a call for working to bring young families back into the community. I agree that this would not only be a boon to our local schools, but would be a positive economic initiative as well. (And that once again circled back to affordable housing.)
I think the third theme, fiscal responsibility, was the issue with which all the candidates struggled most. While it is a difficult question for candidates seeking a first term, I was disappointed that they hadn’t done more preparation on this issue. It is important and all of the financial records are public records and accessible. That said, I can’t honestly say the incumbents answered the questions better. The question that was posed to them was somewhat nebulous, but I felt it might have been handled better.
In closing, I can personally say I recognized all but one candidate as active in the community, involved in various volunteer positions and generally working to make Culver a better place. I commend them for taking the chance at leadership and trying to move Culver forward. In almost all cases, I felt like their hearts were in the right place and their reason for running was to make Culver a better place. As someone who attends the majority of their public meetings, I know it’s generally a thankless job. I commend them for putting themselves out there. To all of them I say, “Good Luck!” But I honestly don’t know which outcome would signify that they were lucky!
Candidate Picture Source: The Pilot News
I ran across this on twitter posted from the IBJ (Indianapolis Business Journal): IU researchers say 2015 is banner year for housing sales “Home sales across the state increased more than 6 percent in the one-year stretch ending June 2015 compared with the previous 12 months. In fact, buyer demand proved so strong this summer that Hoosiers bought 9,080 existing homes in June alone—the state’s second-largest one-month sales tally in the past 12 years, according to the study.” Unfortunately, as one of the commenters states, it the data looks like it was a banner year for real estate agents, not necessarily home builders…
Granted, it is mainly talking about Indy, but some of the information is salient to the housing conversation in Culver as well.
I need to write a follow up on the BZA meeting last Thursday, but there hasn’t been enough time for me to get my thoughts in order. Suffice to say for now that it was interesting.
Image Source: Clipart Panda
Just to give a follow up on my post regarding the parking lot on South Main Street. I attended the BZA meeting last week. Raubyn Barich, the homeowner to the south, did an excellent job of presenting her case against the proposed use. She ended up finding a lot of the points I made previously here, plus some others that were quite good.
Despite the Plan Commission’s recommendation that the site plan be changed to angle parking in lieu of 90 degree parking, the Town Council and Redevelopment Commission decided to push for the 90 degree option. This would have put the parking lot within 12″ of the Barich lot line leaving no room for a landscape buffer. All they would have received was a 6′ fence on the lot line. Seeing opposition to this from the BZA, the applicant modified the request to give a 7′ buffer. Buffering such as shown to the right would have been better, both on the south and east, but that’s not going to happen… A solid white fence is what planned, which won’t be attractive at all. At this point that is all about dollars, so suggestions something more attractive with a staggered design or other interest is not being considered. That’s unfortunate since this has become a municipal project.
Jeff Kenny borrowed a box of pictures I was given by the Culver Post Office a few years ago. He plans to scan them for the history museum. I’ve scanned them all including a large quantity of construction records from the project showing draws and wage rates. All of it is extremely interesting and provides a glimpse into the early history of our family business. Our early history is somewhat sketchy and our earliest project record we have is the concrete marker on the Culver Elementary School Gym which credits us with the construction in 1929. (It was the High School gym then, long before the school consolidation.)
Jeff’s Throw Back Thursday article on the Culver Post Office gives some history of the site and includes a few pictures, one of which I included to here to the left. Purusing through the records from the project, I’m not sure if anyone who worked on it is alive today, but I doubt it. It was a depression era project and I have heard family stories of my great grandfather, Russell Easterday, taking the overnight train to Washington, D.C. with submittals and bids for government work during that time. At that time in our early history, the offices for the company were on the second floor of the State Exchange Bank building (currently First Farmers Bank & Trust). The current building at 402 North Slate Street was constructed on Russell’s farm in the 1950’s.
I’ve been at four meetings where a downtown parking lot has been discussed: two Redevelopment Commission meetings, a Plan Commission Meeting and a Town Council meeting. At two of these meetings I’ve listened to the adjacent property owner discuss her concerns. So far her concerns have received little sympathy, though I believe they have some merit. In my opinion there are two issues here, 1) Rezoning the property from R1 to C2 and the subsequent variance and 2) the parking lot itself. The rezoning has been completed, so that’s basically a moot point, but just for kicks and giggles, I’m going to discuss both here:
Let’s start with the Comprehensive Plan. The Future Land Use Map shows this block on Main Street as Mixed Use: “Mixed Use development is characterized as multi-story structures with retail, restaurant and service uses on the ground floor and office or residential uses on the upper floors where appropriate.” (pg 45) In the downtown district there are multiple references to the maintaining the “streetwall”, in general would imply a C-1 Zoning District.
The downtown, between Washington Street and Madison Street along Main Street, is zoned C-1. The block south of Madison Street is zoned C-2 on the east side and R-1 (with the exception of this recent rezoning) on the west side. Where this determination came from is somewhat puzzling since the description of the C-2 District in the Zoning Ordinance starts off: “The C-2 Commercial District is a general commercial district designed to serve free-standing commercial activities which may be highway oriented or those business establishments which by their nature do not readily adapt to a downtown location.” This area is obviously compatible with “downtown” since it is downtown and these businesses are in no way “highway oriented”. They also meet the requirements of maintaining the streetwall, though they do have off-street parking. So… this rezoning is a case of spot zoning, i.e. an island of C-2 in between R-1 lots. It is also contrary to the Comprehensive Plan which shows this area as part of downtown and suggests that it be C-1 to encourage the streetwall.
The adjacent property owner has legitimate complaints. 1) This will not enhance her property and will no doubt be detrimental to it as a residence which she hopes to maintain and 2) by making this a spot zoning and not rezoning the entire block as a commercial district she has not even benefited from the possibility of increasing the value of the property as a potential future commercial development site.
And to address the variance, the C-2 rezoning created this problem. C-1 has zero side yard setbacks, so this could have been moot on that basis.
I would argue that if rezoning was to occur here, the entire block should have been rezoned as C-1.
There is some question in my mind regarding the need for additional downtown parking. Again, looking at the Comprehensive Plan I found the following references to parking:
And there are more references such as the section on creating Parking Policy on page 65 and the discussion of Complete Streets on page 94 continue to talk about avoiding parking lots on Main Street and encouraging on-street parking or parking in the rear. There are also sections that suggest parking be screen, include planting islands and trees for shade. None of which have been included in the plan up for consideration.
The parking lot proposal is a collaboration between the Town and the developer of the building at 232 South Main Street. At the public meetings it is being discussed as a public project and fulfilling a need for downtown parking. In actuality it seems to be more of a response to the relocation of the Lake Shore Clinic to 232 South Main Street and the perceived increase in parking needs. This is somewhat frustrating since prior to construction in 2007, the developer was granted a parking variance from ordinance standards. It would seem that if the building had included the required parking spaces this new lot would not be required. But doubly so, since as the Comprehensive Plan, just completed last year, discusses parking availability and underutilized parking lots as positives.
I would also question whether the proposed parking lot meets the Zoning Ordinance parking requirements, specifically 1) There shall be onsite stormwater detention (pg 54, Design and Maintenance #7) and 2) There shall be no parking in the front yard (pg 54, Design and Maintenance #11) While there are drywells called out on the plans, I would rather see an above ground detention structure that can be cleaned and maintained. Regarding the front yard, I had an interesting discussion with the Building Commissioner. He does not consider this property as having a front yard since there is not a building on it, but also noted that the setback is considered the front yard when looking at site distance in L-1. That also then brings up whether the parking lot is considered a structure, which it would be under the definitions on page 14, at which point it might again need a variance for violating the front setback. And then there is the impervious surface restriction. I’m not sure how they are going to keep less than 60% impervious surface with a parking lot that is only setback 12″ from the side lot lines. The Building Commissioners position is that parking lots are not defined in the Zoning Ordinance which means everything is up for interpretation by the Plan Commission. Fair point, but not particularly helpful heading into a hearing.
A couple of final thoughts I have. First, I would probably not be in favor of the variance request tonight (though I won’t speak against it). If the entire block had been rezoned, I would have been more likely to support it, but the spot zoning seems quite odd. The decision making seems a bit schizophrenic in that we’re shoehorning in a spot zoned commercial use, without making the commitment of expanding the surrounding residential area as commercial use. Second, I am very disappointed that the Comprehensive Plan was not consulted in this decision. I did not see it discussed in any of the above meetings and that’s unfortunate when the plan is not much more than a year old. True it is just a plan and as with all plans, subject to change, but my feeling is that it was ignored, not changed. Such is life in the big city… or Culver…
See an after-meeting follow-up post here.