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Culver identity, housing , business matters top comprehensive plan discussions

May 4, 2013

The first public meetings towards formation of a new comprehensive plan for Culver were held last week, and if one thing emerged clearly, it's that times have changed since the last plan.

Specifically, many among the wide array of opinions expressed indicated Culver is a community struggling to come to terms with its identity, and to forge a plan arising from whatever identity it wishes to embrace.

Brandon Nolin and Dan Gardener of Chicago-based consulting firm Houseal Lavigne and Associates led the first public meeting, Monday evening at the beach lodge, starting with distribution of a questionnaire focusing on priorities for Culver moving forward. After jotting down several, the approximately 20 attendees were encouraged to verbalize them, as Nolin and Gardener created a written list for all to see.

The issue of affordable housing overwhelmingly topped the list, with closely-related matters of "honing in on Culver's identity," broader and more ample employment opportunities, and the need for more young families in the community following. Others named included winter-time activities (specifically those not involving alcohol), programs for young people past the typical elementary age of Culver Boys & Girls Club members, improving communication conduits such as high-speed internet access for businesses and individuals, more and better hiking and biking trails, creation of a Culver business park, reckoning with the implications of an ageing population, condition and development of the west "gateway" into Culver on Jefferson Street, more support and promotion of local businesses, preservation of Culver's history and heritage, better protection for Lake Maxinkuckee, and others.

Next, those in attendance were asked to suggest specific projects they'd like to see undertaken in the future. To a large extent, resultant answers proposed specific solutions to the top several priorities or concerns listed, with some exceptions including getting the movie theater in Culver going again, renovation of Culver's water plant, and addition of an airport, among others.

Asked to name Culver's top assets, responses included the presence of Lake Maxinkuckee and Culver Academies, a caring a friendly atmosphere, prevalence of volunteerism, safety of living conditions, overall appearance, and high quality eateries.

Houseal Lavigne's representatives expressed appreciation for the diverse turnout at the meeting, noting in many such surveys, "only one facet of many fragmented views comes out. The fact that so many are here is a great start -- it makes us excited about the process."

The following morning, approximately the same number of attendees, this time representing Culver's business community, turned out for a meeting at the town hall specifically focused on business.

A wide array of topics and extensive discussion carried the two-hour meeting, whose length Nolin and Gardener said was a positive indicator of the investment and interest of those at the table and, by extension, those in the community.

The question of Culver's identity once again came to the fore. However, said Gardener, community members should hesitate to limit that identity to a narrow definition.

"Balance is what you want. We can't come in and tell you who you are in a 10-month process and we don't want to, but we can say, 'Here are some things you can do to achieve some end goals.' You don't want to lose that thing (diversity) that makes Culver unique."

Among other discussion points were the difficulty of small business owners regularly attending town meetings where decisions are made which may affect them, and the need for businesses to become more involved in the Chamber of Commerce and support one another collectively. It was also suggested the town support the Chamber financially. The possibility was discussed of channeling some dollars from the hotel tax -- currently all routed to Marshall County Tourism -- to promote Culver and support its businesses.

Some business owners discussed whether a frequently-requested lower price point could be offered outside the busy summer season, which several said would be financially impossible. It was also suggested by one business owner that local residents leave town to shop and eat regardless of local price reductions.

The notion of Culver as a strictly resort-based, retirement-type community is becoming harder and harder on the local school system, it was noted, something Gardener affirmed had been expressed as a concern during Houseal Lavigne's conversation with school superintendent Brad Schuldt. One comment suggested Culver is a "second home," rather than strictly a "resort" community, though the effect is largely the same.
Current prices of potential business space were discussed, which some attendees agreed were too high to be viable for the sort of small business likely to seek a home in Culver.

One are builder remarked the price range often presented to him as affordable for young families -- in the $75,000 range -- isn't attainable in new construction. Another at the table said those houses priced between $100,000 and $300,000 in town often need expensive updating before spending on them is complete.

In discussion of promotion of Culver and attracting visitors, Gardener pointed out Culver lacks a sizable amount of hotel accommodations.

While it was noted a number of local houses are weekend rentals in the summer and for major Culver Academies events, one respondent pointed out such home rentals still fail to provide the simple ease of calling a hotel to make reservations.

Also discussed were the challenges of accommodating a local workforce, given the lack of affordable housing, and the "brain drain" of skilled and capable professionals leaving the area.

The town of Culver's website, www.townofculver.org, will host notices of ongoing meetings (which will also be shared via The Culver Citizen), questionnaires, and other information related to the comprehensive plan, which is intended to guide the community, once completed, for the next decade or so.

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