Little Pink Houses…

After the last Culver Town Council meeting, John Mellencamp‘s Pink Houses song was in my head… “Little Pink Houses… for you and me!” Though on reflection, a couple of Talking Heads‘ more angry song lyrics might have been more appropriate, i.e. “Burning Down the House!” or “This is not my beautiful house!”

Cookie Cutter

A local resident rose to speak during public input. Apparently just recently finding out about The Dunes (seriously!?), she had many concerns, not the least of these being aesthetics. She wanted to see what the buildings were going to look like. She didn’t want a bunch of cookie cutter houses looking all the same. (What, like The Riggings, Chadwick Shores, The Harbour or The Cove?) Paraphrasing here, she used a line similar to what has been used from multiple perspectives and variations against The Dunes, “That isn’t Culver!” Really? What is Culver? She made reference to living on South Street. The last lake home on South Street, the Shaffer house, was demolished within the last month as it is about to be replaced by something new. In many ways, THAT is what Culver has become. A continuing renaissance of demolition and replacement.

Welcome to Culver Sign at intersection of 10 & 17

Back in 1998, Culver hosted a Charrette, where some themes were identified. Recommendations were made on things that should be highlighted. One of these was the use of field stone, which prompted the pillars for the Welcome to Culver sign at 10 & 17 and covering the wall at the Lake Shore Drive curve with stone. Even recently, this theme has been continued in the developments at Sand Hill Farm (Stone facades at The Paddocks & Sand Hill Farm entrance sign) and with the wall replacement completed by Boo Marshall & Paul De Benedictis on Lake Shore Drive. But there was never a directive or ordinance requiring compliance. Thus within a year or so of the Charrette, Bob & Mary Tanguy built Mary’s Shoppe, now the Culver Academies Museum, on the southeast corner of Main Street and Jefferson Street. (As another recommendation, the Charrette discussed the need to follow the existing downtown character with infill development, but Tanguys were allowed to do what they wanted.)

Where do we draw the line on such things? Culver has very few zoning requirements that apply to aesthetics. The first two that come to mind are the height restrictions (no, it’s not a fire department requirement) and side yard requirements that mostly are there to keep similar aesthetics in similar neighborhoods. On the lake, there is currently a line-of-sight front setback restriction which is mostly aesthetic. (And is currently under review for removal from the ordinance.) Culver has a grass ordinance and the unsafe building ordinance has been stretched to cover aesthetics, but other than that, residents are mostly free to do as they please. Much to some people’s chagrin, there used to be a pink restaurant building on Lake Shore Drive, a yellow house on the south side of the lake, a yellow & orange house on the east side of the lake and now there are a few that are nearly completely black. To each their own!

Preliminary Plan for The Dunes development on South Main Street.

As it has been discussed so far, The Dunes will be built out by the developer, so all decisions on construction styles will start there. It will have a Home Owners Association (HOA), which would control such things as colors and landscaping, if they want. (In reality, the developer plans to hold ownership on the majority of the properties and thus would have control of the HOA decisions.) All those decisions will be made based on their ability to wring the most profit from rentals and sales. I personally don’t agree with their decision to face all of the houses inward to the property with no front doors on South Main Street, but it’s their property, so they can do as they please. The decision to make the project self-contained makes the complaints about cookie cutter houses even less salient. As with all HOA style developments, buyers and renters know what they are getting when they move in. Some people like every property the same and under control, thinking that makes their neighborhood better. Isn’t that what the local ‘Walking Ladies’ hoped for when they would call out properties that didn’t meet those elusive Culver standards?

Due to the comments of this resident, the Town Council suggested asking for some renderings of buildings (reasonable) and maybe asking for a model of the property (totally unreasonable!). But before going too far with this, the council and residents need to ask how far they really want to go? Is this standard going to be the new one throughout Culver? Much like an HOA, is the council going to dictate paint colors, shingle colors, roof materials, siding types, etc. throughout Culver? Would the resident complaining about this, want that standard applied to her home?

Burning Down the House contains another line that might be salient here: “Ah watch out… you might get what you’re after.”

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