Culver needs an Infrastructure Czar

I had lamented about this in the past, but decided to put my thoughts together here for a post as I see this happening over and over again. Culver is doing a great job at obtaining grants and adding improvements to the Town. Unfortunately, these projects seem to continually suffer from a two step forward, one step back syndrome. We have “plans” for what will come in the future, but we continually use different consultants for different projects with no one tasked with seeing the big picture.

This is not the job of the Town Manager. While the Town Manager is generally aware of all the projects and project plans, we have yet to hire one that is a Urban Planner or Landscape Architect. We hire them for the management skills, administration skills, grant writing skills, public relations skills, etc. Some towns choose to go with a “Clerk of the Works” in lieu of a Town Manager. That person has a different skill set and in my opinion, what a Town Manager brings, is what is best for Culver.

But…

The best example of the problem I think needs to be addressed is the various improvements that have been completed over the last couple decades in the area of State Street, Lake Shore Drive and the Town Park. This occurred over the tenure of multiple Town Managers and again, I don’t think this is on them.

  1. The brick street that was State Street was deteriorating in front of the fire station. The Town decided to pull the brick and redo the street in concrete. Once construction started, the deteriorating condition of the storm water inlets was pointed out. It was also suggested that the other infrastructure (water and sewer lines) should be examined. The decision was made not to do this, patch the storm water inlets (and sewer manhole) the best they could and move on.
  2. The storm water lines continued to deteriorate and eventually the lines on Lake Shore Drive needed to be replace. These connected to the State Street storm lines, so the new concrete street in #1 was cut (reducing the integrity of the soil compaction, concrete and reinforcing steel) to replace those inlets. As part of this work, the sidewalk from the Park parking lot to the public pier was removed and replaced.
  3. The Town moved forward with the trail project that runs through the Park. This ran from the end of Washington Street, through the Park and up past the Beach Lodge. The newly placed concrete in #2 above had to be removed and reworked in order to make the trail ADA accessible.
  4. The Town reroofed the Beach Lodge. This while planning for the Beach Lodge renovation was underway. Approximately 20% of the new roof had to be removed in order to complete the addition to the Beach Lodge.
  5. The Town moved forward with the Beach Lodge project the year after the Trail was completed. Additional costs were incurred protecting the new trail in #3 as it passed through the construction area.
State Street Concrete Project in front of the Fire Station where the brick was removed and replaced with heavily reinforced concrete.

Okay. While there is not a infrastructure Master Plan and there is no guarantee when or how much grant money comes in for projects, these issues were unforced errors. All of these projects were on the overall to-do list, just without a master plan or time frame. #1 was a Town Manager/Street Department project. #2 was contracted to the Town’s Engineering firm. #3 was contracted to the Town’s Landscape Architecture firm. #4 was a Town Manager project. #5 was contracted to an Architecture firm. Again, not faulting any of them, as they can only work with the information provided, but no one had the overall vision. They were each working in their own silos as directed.

The past several Town Managers have depended heavily on Culver’s Utilities Superintendent. Again, it would be unfair to blame any of the above on that person. They are tasked with keeping things working, not having a vision for the future. They often are not called in until the grant has been obtained and the architect or engineer have been hired. They can help oversee the current project per the plans, but at that point it’s often too late to adjust for the connections.

The new trail extension is elevated to match the curb at Davis Street, but drops to street level as it proceeds down South Main Street. This would be problematic if curbs are added as part of a South Main Street improvement project.

There are other examples, such as Cavalier Drive, where the sewer line was not extended to either end of the street & the street does not serve all of The Paddock on the north end and the South Main Street Trail, where once the trail leaves Davis Street, where there was a curb, it drops down to road level without planning for future South Main Street improvements. (South Main Street is currently hard to traverse due to sunken inlets in the street in the travel path of car tires. Improvements including curb and gutter and curb inlets would be a prudent consideration.)

Now there are four significant projects planned for Culver. None of these are particularly objectionable. The Plan Commission and their subcommittee, the Technical Review Committee, have reviewed and approved the multi-family development at 415 Lake Shore Drive. While it does not follow the Comprehensive Plan completely, it does transition from Commercial to Residential, which was a Comp Plan goal for this parcel. But how does this increased density change the vision for this area? Why was it not required to follow current detention requirements? (Yes, the existing site was fulling impervious, but there are existing drainage problems in this area and this was an opportunity to alleviate some of them.) What should be done as part of this project to prepare for the next project? Maybe there’s not much that can be done because of the state of development in that area, but has it been considered?

The second one is municipal projects at the intersections of South Main Street, Davis Street and Ohio Street. The town is expanding their well field. They are considering a new facility on Davis Street where the restaurant was torn down. How will these new uses affect development? Will they increase traffic? Is there anything that can be done to improve the poor intersection traffic at this location?

Culver Comprehensive Plan Transportation and Mobility Plan

The third one is a storage facility on Tamerack Road, south of the cemetery. Again, this does not quite follow the Comp Plan, but it’s been reviewed and found to be reasonable by the Plan Commission. How will this affect future projects? This facility is designed to house recreational vehicles, so it will increase traffic from large vehicles, trucks and trailers. Does this lend to an upgrade in South Main Street? Remember the trail that just went in, mentioned above? Will it make sense to widen South Main Street? Add curbs? How will that affect the trail? Does this put more need for the extension of West Shore Drive to S.R. 17 as discussed as a goal in the current Comp Plan (page 89 shows new connections to S.R. 17 via extensions of Academy Road and West Shore Drive)?

Preliminary Plan for The Dunes development on South Main Street.

The fourth project is The Dunes. There’s been talk in town that residents were blind-sided with this, but in reality, that property was annexed and rezoned “R-2” years ago with the goal of denser residential development. There were advertised public meetings at the Plan Commission and Town Council. Again, the trail project should have anticipated this, but didn’t. What other things have been missed along here? What else should be considered? As with the storage facility, does this suggest upgrades to South Main Street and the West Shore Drive extension to S.R. 17?

This is where an Infrastructure Czar would come in. (Call them what you want, but this was a starting point for me.) This is someone charged to see the big picture and how all the new projects interrelate with the existing facilities. Someone trained to see this. Trained to have the vision. I’m not really advocating a new position as I don’t think it’s warranted, but the Town hires consultants all of the time. Whether this is a single person or a firm, the consultant fees would be minimal and money well spent and paid for by saving the reworking of things as pointed out in the Lake Shore Drive list of 4 above.

Crude round-about sketch. 1) Improves existing intersection issues. 2) Eliminates the weird misaligned street across from Tampa Street and adjacent to the Garden Court Drive. 3) Preserves same developer units, sliding them south to accommodate the new road connection. 4) Minimal additional development street requirements by making the trade-off with the currently shown South Main Street Connection.

A prime example of a current issue most probably being increased by the last three on this list is the unsafe intersections involving South Main Street, Davis Street and Ohio Street. Some of the money being dedicated to these projects by the Redevelopment Commission could be channeled towards improvements here. (Really should have been considered with the trail project.) This could be low end, utilizing better signage and more traffic control or higher end with widening of streets and adding turn lanes, etc. There is also the really radical and progressive option of turning this intersection into a round-about! Wouldn’t that blow some minds!

The point is, once these developments are complete, there will be no options for asking for additional land or other concessions and an opportunity will be lost. We need someone with vision who can think outside the box on these things. Someone to challenge the status quo so improvements can be considered. Infrastructure Czar, Master Planner, The Vision… Call them what you want. Someone needs to be in-charge of monitoring the big picture.

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