The Dunes Work Session

There was a work session held Wednesday evening, 5/15/24, to discuss The Dunes project. This was a combined session with the Culver Town Council, Plan Commission and Redevelopment Commission in attendance. Despite being advertised as a work session, they did allow limited questions from the public in attendance. I am not sure how many were watching via Teams, but there were only 7 “public” in the room.

Combined Work Session for the Culver Town Council, Plan Commission and Redevelopment Commission May 15,2024

I attended just to listen. As I have said before, I am generally in favor of this project, but The Devil is in the Details. This is the third project of this type, one of two that has regional matching dollars, that has been come up for the Town in the last 10 years. It’s been interesting to see how these things have morphed over time. Since the meeting, I have been approached by several people, some on opposite sides of the issue, for my thoughts on the meeting. I thought I would include some of my responses to them here.

The meeting was ostensibly to hear the Town’s Engineering Firm, Midwest Engineers, Inc., give their assessment of the drainage plans. Some of what was presented was by the developer’s attorney though, so there may have been some honest miscommunication. That said, it wasn’t corrected by the engineer. As a disclaimer here, I have not seen the drainage study, final plat, or construction plans, so I can only speak to what was presented.

Thoughts on the drainage:

  • There was a question from a plan commission member concerning the adjacent wetlands behind the water treatment plant which currently comes up into adjacent property owners’ yards during heavy rains. The response was that there would be no increase in water volume entering the wetlands, but that it would enter faster. There would be an overflow established for the wetlands routing the water somewhere (town storm drains?). This is one of those where I wonder if there was a misstatement, as the general design of a detention basin is to detain the water and slowly release it at a rate no faster than predevelopment. Flushing the wetlands with a rapid release and an overflow to the storm drain could well be detrimental. This wetland is directly adjacent to the town’s well field, so its health is important. Also, this seems counter to town’s storm water requirements which state, “It is the responsibility of each land owner to insure that any portion of precipitation from such sources as rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation water that flows over the ground surface be contained within their lot or channeled to an appropriate storm sewer, ditch, or stream.” – Chapter 6, Section 250, page 115. This is tricky. It’s important the the wetlands still receives the pre-development runoff (contrary to the ordinance), but does not get flushed with a rapid release of runoff.
  • There was a discussion about making the pond deeper. Deeper will increase the volume held, but won’t necessarily increase the rate of absorption, which they stated they are counting on. The depth in comparison to the wetlands is important and the plantings and maintenance of this detention pond is critical, else the bottom seal and no longer provide absorption. I trust that Midwestern Engineers is considering the possibility of multiple 100 yr storms and the possibility of 500 year storms, since their occurrence is a possibility.
  • There were questions about the start of earthwork before Culver approvals. It was stated that they didn’t require any Culver approvals and they had the State approvals required for this work. It wasn’t clear if they had obtained an erosion control permit from Culver. I believe that should have been required and applied where it might be stricter than the State. – Chapter 6, Section 050, H, page 87
  • There was discussion of possibly adding large drywells. Drywells are generally pervious vessels such as manholes, vaults and oversized pipes which detain some of the water and allow for absorption into the surrounding soil. They work well when they are maintained, but cease to work if they are allowed to clog. They only work in suitable soils. The addition of drywells would move this maintenance from the HOA (responsible for the detention pond) to the town, as they would become part of the built storm system, dedicated to the town with the streets. A potential alternate solution would be the creation of small drywells associated with the downspouts on buildings and the creation of rain gardens and/or bioswales to slow water flow and increase absorption.
Minimum Lot Area Chart for Culver’s R-2 District

Thoughts on size:

  • There was audience pushback on the size of the development. The concern being that the addition of “300 doors” (the developer’s term), will cause traffic problems, tax the municipal systems and generally be disruptive to Culver as we know it. I tend to trust the numbers provide by town officials on this. We have been assured that the sewer and water capacity is not only adequate, but there will remain excess capacity for other future projects. Town officials have also cited demographic numbers showing that if all of these new units are filled with fulltime residents, that will only bring our number of fulltime residents back to the mix of the 1980’s. I am most interested in the utility capacity, as I would hate to see us with limited capacity if something comes up we really want. As mentioned in this post, Culver Meadows is still hanging out there as well.
  • There was audience pushback on the the “surprise” involved with this development. The land involved was annexed in the 2010’s to promote its development. The R-2 zoning district was rewritten in the 2010’s to allow greater density. Finding ways to add housing to Culver has been a goal for decades at this point. It’s hard to justify the pushback when it’s been in the plans for that long and came up again as a major goal in the current comprehensive plan. There is some question of the development size. It was stated as 60 acres in the meeting, but the parcels on the GIS add up to 65 acres. (Are the roads being discounted?) Either way, worst case scenario, if all 300 doors were counted as single family residences, then 300 units x 7,500 sf (from R-2 Lot area chart) = 51.65 acres. They are well under the density allowed. The only question here is the division of lots and whether each of the proposed lots stays below the density standard. I am guessing they’re safe on this.

Thoughts on traffic:

  • There were audience concerns about the added traffic in the downtown and the desire to reroute this development’s traffic out of town. I was pleased to hear that the downtown merchants had been surveyed and they were in favor of the additional traffic downtown. They see this as a benefit to them. As I previously wrote in this post, I think development around the perimeter of Culver should be directed in and efforts should be made to make new residents part of the community, rather than creating our small version of Suburban Sprawl.
  • The financing was discussed and the additional funds coming to Culver through the TIF can be used to address infrastructure issues that may come up from this. This is one I do take some exception to. I am not privy to current plans and negotiations, but I am concerned that street improvements may require additional right-of-ways as discussed in this post. Even if these aren’t required for The Dunes, there was discussion of the development occurring further south on Tamarack Road and 19th Road. If this is an area of expansion, provisions for improvements should be obtained from this developer now. There would be little effect on their project, but could make a huge difference in addressing future needs. I fully understand the town’s position, i.e. they don’t know what might be needed until the problems arise, but having additional right-of-way now would prevent eminent domain problems in the future. As discussed in multiple comprehensive plan meetings, municipalities need to do their best to plan for 50 to 100 years from now and not do things that can’t be easily rectified in the future.
  • Under things not discussed, but I thought should have been… I still have concerns that the new street across South Main Street from Tampa Street does not line up with Tampa Street. I think this is creating a dangerous intersection. I also think this is the time to address the Davis Street/South Main Street intersection. On that issue, there is scuttlebutt that a possible solution is to end Ohio Street as a cul-de-sac. That should be part of this discussion now, as well.

Thoughts on costs:

  • There were questions on what this will cost Culver Taxpayers. I trust the town officials that they have negotiated this so there are no out of pocket costs to the current taxpayers and that the additional captured tax funds will be adequate to fix any problems and provide excess for other things beneficial to Culver. My only concern here is whether that will be burnt up addressing the infrastructure issues posed above.
  • Under things not discussed, but I thought should have been… In the previous development agreements mentioned above, there were more requirements put on the developer. When Culver put money toward the street construction, the naming of the street was by the town, not the developer. The other two agreements included requirements for part of the developments to have housing cost controls. The Dunes developer is receiving $1.3MM in READI funds as well as TIF bond funds from the Town. The Dunes developer has been very upfront in meetings that this project is not affordable housing. It is market rate housing. While the town (rightly in my opinion) believes that additional housing availability should have the effect of lowering overall housing costs, there is a question as to whether the developer will proceed with later phases of this development if that happens. If increased capacity lowers demand, the premium available for new housing may be lower as well. I do not foresee this, but it should be part of the discussion. Lowering housing costs is a double edged sword for current residents as well. While many of them balk at the tax increases associated with the rise in assessed value, they are pleased with the appreciation in value when they sell.

These are the main points and I think I will leave it here. If something else comes up, that I think should be mentioned, I may make some edits.

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