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The Culver Town Council held a public hearing on the new building permit fees Tuesday evening. As expected, someone had rallied the troops, and there were quite a few people there to protest. The room wasn’t quite filled to capacity, but it was close. There were quite a few contractors present as well as residents living in the extra territorial boundary. Kevin Overmyer, Marshall County Commissioner, was there as well as Chuck DeWitt, Marshall County Building Inspector. Al Eisenhour was there speaking on behalf of the Marshall County Home Builders Association as well. For the most part they echoed the concerns I expressed in my previous post here. Where it took a wild bounce though was when they started comparing permit fees between those proposed in Culver and those proposed in the county. They were listing comparisons where the fees would be double or sometimes quadruple or more for a permit for the same building in the county as opposed to within Culver’s jurisdiction. This appeared to resonate with Commissioner Overmyer. It was fairly clear that he was there to support those in the audience not the Town of Culver. This concerns me because it is my understanding that Culver’s extra territorial boundary is administered by Culver at the discretion of Marshall County. It could be rescinded. It appears that instead of taking steps to expand our extra territorial boundary for which I have lobbied, Culver is now in a position of potentially losing what they have.
I lost another good friend at the end of last month. Bobetta (Bobbie) Ruhnow passed away on October 31st. You can read her impressive obituary here. But that obituary hardly does her justice…
I first became acquainted with Bobbie as a friend in the early nineties shortly after I moved back to Culver. Dad said that part of the business was public service and soon after attending a few Chamber of Commerce meetings as Easterday’s representative I was asked to join the board. Bobbie’s involvement there led us to work together on many Culver projects including the inception of the Second Century Committee, the Mary Means Study, the Osborn Square Study, the Ratio Charrette and the Ratio Comprehensive Plan. Eventually we were involved with so many things together she quipped, “If you show up for Thanksgiving Dinner next week, I won’t even bat an eye. I see you enough that you’re like part of the family.” There were many times she joked about wanting to adopt me… I felt honored that she felt that way about me.
There has been some recent debate about Building Permit Fees in Culver. Two things have prompted this: The first being the new County Online Building Permit system and the second being the low reimbursement fee Culver pays the County Building Inspector.
Culver has a Building Commissioner to review zoning requirements and issue building permits. Our Building Commissioner does not have the proper certifications to do building inspections so we have relied on the County Building Inspector to do building inspections. Several years ago a fee to the County of $50 per permit was set for projects that required building inspections. Building inspections are required on any construction involving new or changes to structural, mechanical or electrical systems. Since that time, some of the larger home projects and commercial projects at Culver Academies have resulted in multiple trips (sometimes dozens) by the County Inspector. Obviously the $50 fee did not cover the costs. The County came to Culver asking for several revisions to the way Culver issues permits so as to bring the fees in line with the County fees and to make it more standardized so that the building permit process could be automated across the entire county.
For various reasons, Culver has chosen to not just raise the fees to cover the additional expenses, but to jump the fees well above those in the County and surrounding area. Where the County has a flat fee for a commercial building, Culver has a fee based on square footage and value which could easily double or quadruple the fee the same building would cost in the county. The same applies to residential projects. This is hard to justify within the Town limits, but almost impossible to justify in the Extra Territorial Boundary where there are no municipal utilities, roads or other services.
As discussed here before, I thought it was in Culver’s best interest to expand their Extra Territorial Boundary to the maximum allowed by law. I fought it when the Town gave up areas due to the new County Online Permitting. I gave up the fight when Culver didn’t follow the County’s Wind Turbine Ordinance for the Extra Territorial Boundary. (Too Tired to Fight About it Further…) Now this latest overreach could jeopardize the Extra Territorial Boundary we currently have. If the County feels the Town is taking advantage of landowners in the Extra Territorial Boundary, they could rescind Culver’s control over this area. Instead of providing a service this could be considered a case of taxation without representation.
This issue will be before the Town Council tomorrow night. It has already been before the Plan Commission where it was passed. I will probably not speak tomorrow night since I already did at the Plan Commission. My points there were the following:
It will be an interesting meeting tomorrow night. I understand the troops have been rallied against this. I think what started as a reasonable response to outside costs have taken an unfortunate turn. We’ll see how it shakes out.
Picture Source: colliergov.net
Comic Source: studious-catz.com
As my loyal lurkers know, I got run around by the Town trying to set up a special BZA meeting to hear a Special Use request on my property. I really appreciate Dan Adams and the other BZA members making the effort to be there for me! (Jerry Chavez with MCEDC had also called some favors for a abatement hearing at the County Council as well. That got cancelled.) But… That was before the Town Council chose to pull the plug on the project for 2015.
Jonathan Leist, Town Manager, was kind enough to suggest that all I needed to do was submit a letter withdrawing the application and he would appear at the meeting for me. I didn’t think that was appropriate since I had made the request. I attended the regularly scheduled BZA meeting on the 15th to thank the BZA members for the indulgence, apologize for the withdrawal and ask whether they wanted to have the special meeting on the 22nd. After some discussion it was agreed that the meeting should proceed since it had been advertised. I agreed to attend and formally withdraw my request and answer any questions posed by the public.
There were 8 people there in the audience on the 22nd which made me nervous going in. It’s unusual for people to come out in support, so I pretty much assumed they were best case coming to hear about it or not the best, coming to protest it. Based on the comments, it was a little of both. The meeting opened and I withdrew the request, but said I was there to answer any questions. This is paraphrasing at best, but here’s what was asked and answered:
Will there be apartments? Yes, that is why I made the request to the BZA. Current zoning, S-1, allows single family housing, but apartments are only allowed with a Special Use variance.
Who would manage the apartments and who would make sure they didn’t deteriorate? Under the scenario currently being pursued, the apartments would be subsidized through a government program and the developer would be responsible for the apartment management. There would be State inspections to make sure they would be maintained. (I’ve included a picture of a previous complex completed by the developer to the right and there are more pictures in a previous post here.)
Would you pursue annexation? I would not pursue annexation, but I would require municipal water and sewer for the apartment project and I would assume the Town would want to annex the property at some time in return for this service. Jonathan Leist also responded: The Town would want to annex the property since it is to be served by Town utilities.
How many apartment units are planned? Initially the discussions are for 24-48 units, but there could be more depending on demand. There will also be single family homes in the development as well.
There was quite a bit of further “comment” that the apartments would deteriorate over time.
There were “comments” from one adjacent business that they would fight any annexation as it would end them. It was unclear if the annexation they would fight would be annexation of their property, my property or both… Meanwhile another business looked at it as an opportunity. (Currently my property is contiguous to Town, so if I request annexation it’s unlikely that any protests would matter.)
Eventually Dan ended the meetings as the concerns became repetitive and the points were somewhat moot considering that the BZA will probably not be involved with any of the decisions. Since plans are back up for reconsideration between now and next November, any specifics are subject to change anyway.
It was good to have the discussion and hear what some of the concerns are. Better to be prepared so we can try and address them positively before we go before the various boards and commissions again. I still think the project is positive for the Town and I don’t feel there is a downside for the neighborhood. I think after hearing some of the discussion, some of those that came for information probably agree. Others may not be so easily swayed. (Any new lurkers that are interested in reading what I’ve said on these subjects in the past can click the Sand Hill Farm tag (top of post) to see thoughts about the property or the Affordable housing tag to see discussions on affordable housing. For those of you on Twitter, if you follow @eccculver I tweet out a notice of new blog posts.
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