The Dunes at CRC 8-21-23

The Culver Redevelopment Commission met last night and there was discussion on The Dunes project. There was a public hearing as they were entering a subrecipient agreement with the Town of Culver. (I always find these things amusing, where the Town Council comes hat-in-hand to request money from the Redevelopment Commission. Ummm… The Town Council are the elected officials that answer to the voters! They appoint the Redevelopment Commission members. If there is any issue with the CRC supporting the TOC, then there should be some reappointments made ASAP! Ha!)

The meeting was a little frustrating as there were no plans or even preliminary plans for The Dunes that they could share. They only shared verbal descriptions of what some of them had seen. The only new information that was shares was: a) The scope has increased to “300 doors” and b) the Town’s commitment to this will be greater than the $1.3MM originally contemplated in the READI grant application. My concern is that we’re getting a long way down the line without knowing what we’re doing. I had to leave the meeting early because of another commitment. I ran into a Town Council member outside who made the comment, “This isn’t like your project where we knew everything up front and knew what we were signing up for.” Well, Yeah!? Why not???

I keep coming back to The Dunes representatives being very careful with their wording. To paraphrase, “The capital contributions from the Town of Culver and READI will reduce the construction costs, but the housing created will be market rate housing.”

Market Rate = What the Market will Bear… I thought that was salient last night as there will be no requirements on the developer regarding costs. The development agreement that kicked off Sand Hill Farm Apartments included several cost controls and included requirements for 12-month leases among other things. It seems they have chosen not to pursue those this time. They (CRC) were even hesitant to use the term work-force housing as they said that it implied that it was subsidized. Ironically, wasn’t the whole reason for this discussion the subsidy they were giving? At the lowest point, the subsidy proposed is $2.6MM made up of $1.3MM from the Town of Culver and $1.3MM from READI.

Sand Hill Farm Apartments

A key point that was emphasized last night was that increasing the number of available housing options should bring down the cost of housing in Culver. Part of the audience’s concern was that the word “should” has been variously substituted with “could” and “ought to” and has included qualifiers like “hopefully”, “theoretically”, “ideally”, etc. This is an experiment.

In general, I am not opposed to The Dunes project and agree with the Town’s premises on increased housing options being needed. The current trends toward Culver having too many “second homes”, probably won’t be stopped by this, but could be affected by it. I am more concerned about my perception of a lack of vision for its effects. I’ve written about some of this before, but to reiterate:

  1. “300 doors” is an interesting term, but I still assume that equates to 300 dwelling units. I don’t believe that South Main Street, as it currently stands, is appropriate as a collector street for this development. I would suggest some of the Town’s contribution go to existing street improvements. If they don’t do it now, it will be required later. (Improvements to the Jefferson Street Corridor were part of the over all consideration for the Sand Hill Farm development.) At a minimum, there should be some increased Right of Way (ROW) for future expansion.
  2. The intersection of Davis Street and South Main Street is poorly designed for the current traffic. Culver may be losing its last chance to fix this if some ROW swap isn’t included in The Dunes plans. At least this may be the last chance to fix it without expensive land acquisition costs.
  3. I understand that our utility infrastructure has been assessed and current capacity will handle this, but it will use most of our current excess capacity. Culver needs some excess capacity in order to be ready for the next opportunity.

I am not one to say we’re moving too fast on this. Time is money and as discussed last week, the numbers being discussed from the READI application are stale as they were put together a year ago. Blame who you like (I have my opinions), but inflation in construction costs is real. I am pleased that the Town has hired financial consultants to make sure the monetary side of this makes sense. I think they are missing a key component by not hiring an urban planning consultant to provide input. This is a major change to the community and all available expertise should be brought into this decision.

Those interested should be at the Town Council meeting tonight where there will be another public hearing on this issue. As the council member I spoke to said, “Bring a cushion…”

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