Interesting Take at the Plan Commission

I attended the Culver Plan Commission with a client Tuesday night. I was a little surprised to be called out in front of my client regarding another project, but so these things go.

Some Background: Last month I appeared for the Secondary Plan Review for the PUD (Planned Unit Development) needed for construction of The Paddocks. The project is one of the signature pieces in Culver’s Stellar Strategic Investment Plan and had been before the Plan Commission multiple times. It passed with one dissenting vote. I wondered about that vote, but never questioned it. It was their right to vote against the project. If they had expressed their objections before the vote, I could have provided a rebuttal to their objections, but after the vote it was a moot point.

Tuesday, that commissioner chose to elaborate on their no vote. To paraphrase, their objection was that all ordinances should be treated equal and since the Town had adopted a Complete Streets ordinance, and The Paddocks had agreed to provide a trail connection through The Paddocks property, the developer should have been required to exhaust all options to continue the trail through the adjacent property. The Developer should also be held to a higher standard due to the Tax Abatement awarded to The Paddocks.

A few things bothered me about that, but again, it was water under the bridge so I did not attempt to address it at that meeting. This is my venue to vent though, so here are my thoughts:

  1. I was disappointed that this was brought up after the fact when I was there with a client for another project. I thought that was inappropriate as it put me in an undeserved negative light when the project I was there for had nothing to do with The Paddocks.
  2. Complete Streets aside, this has not been a standard applied in the past. The last PUD developer was asked to provide trail access and as with The Paddocks, they provided access up to their property line. The adjacent property owner was not amenable to a trail through their property, so that was left to be addressed in the future… similar to what was done with The Paddocks. In that case, that development was not even required to provide the future Right-of-Way that was called out in the Comprehensive Plan because adjacent property owners were not supportive. The Paddocks PUD was required to dedicate additional Right-of-Way that wasn’t part of the Comprehensive Plan or part of the current project. The Town will be setting a high bar to hurdle if they choose to start requiring developers to purchase or negotiate rights to additional property outside the initial development.
  3. The Paddocks PUD did receive some matching funds and a tax abatement from the Town, but this was done because incentives were required to get the housing that the Town had made a goal. This also allowed the Town to receive matching funds from the Regional Cities Initiative (RCI) and qualify for the IHCDA LIHTC program. These were very public negotiations. Making one sided changes to those agreements will make developers leery of working with the Town. On a side note, to my knowledge, this is the only RCI funded project where that funding is given to the Town through the Developer. In the awards of which I have knowledge, the RCI funding went to the Developer.
  4. Originally, and in all the Stellar discussion, this property was to connect to the Town via the revitalization of the Jefferson Street corridor. That was to be the “Complete Streets” connection. It was not until later that a request came for a connection to Cass Street. The Paddocks did agree to provide a trail connection to Cass Street, but was required to do so now despite some objections, one of which was the lack of a connection through adjacent properties. The preference would have been to provide the connection at a later date when it would have connected to Academy Road. Connecting to Cass Street was also an option, but it would have made more sense to wait until the Town had worked out a route with adjacent property owners.

As I have said many times in the past, I respect the volunteers that serve on public boards and commissions. They take more slings and arrows than ever gets balanced out with accolades. That doesn’t alleviate their responsibility to know all the facts. In this case, some of the commentary was counter to things previously negotiated with the Town Council and the Plan Commission’s own Technical Review Committee. Speaking from the table at the front of the room gives their voice additional weight. That needs to be used judiciously.

Obviously this commissioner’s take differs from mine. Fortunately for me, the project and the Town, his position wasn’t shared by the other commissioners.

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