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The who, what, and why of Culver’s new comprehensive plan, and other 2013 projects

March 5, 2013

Stepping into his second calendar year as Culver's town manager (having started last June), Dave Schoeff is looking forward to a busy year for Culver, with development of the town's comprehensive plan as perhaps its central undertaking.

But for the uninitiated, what's all the fuss about a comprehensive plan, and what's it got to do with your average Culver resident, anyway?

"It's like a business going without a business plan," he says. "If you don't have goals and objectives, you're not going to go anywhere.

"The comprehensive plan really addresses all the aspects of Culver (including) quality of life. What level of quality of life are you shooting for? What are our priorities? A lot of the questions are trying to find out where we've been and where do we see ourselves going."

Typically, he says, comprehensive plans aim at a 20-year strategy, though they can be structured for any time frame. Culver's existing plan, which is now over a decade old, may be read online at www.townofculver.org/files/Culver%20Comprehensive%20Plan.pdf.

The prior plan includes a community profile followed by a number of goals and objectives in areas such as land use, growth management, transportation, community facilities and services, environmental, infrastructure, aesthetics and identity, economic development, and parks and recreation.

"The crucial part of these (plans)," notes Schoeff, "unlike the majority of communities do, you have to keep it active. If they say you need to build a road between here and there, somewhere in that 20 years you need to build that road. If you put the book on the shelf, you'll never build it.

"It's really the community's responsibility to do that," he adds, "but it's the administration and all its commissions who will make that happen. The comprehensive plan has to be like the Bible on the table at every hotel; it should be a point of reference for every entity."

Work towards developing the new comprehensive plan began last year, when a selection committee was created with representatives from various entities such as the Culver Redevelopment Committee, plan commission, town council, and Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council.

The plan commission, however, will be the primary body to orchestrate the plan and maintain an active role in it, Schoeff points out.

Other entities are also financial contributors.

"The more people we get vested in it financially, the more people we hope will give input," he says.

Selection of the company to handle developing the plan focused especially on recognition that "community input is crucial," Schoeff notes. "The more you get, the better off you are, and they want to pull as much info out of people as possible."

It's also important that plan developers recognize that while some groups are willing to attend a public meeting and voice their opinions, others likely will not, for a variety of reasons.

The chosen firm, Houseal Lavigne Associates of Chicago, says Schoeff, "seem very creative in reaching out to everyone to get input, which is very important. The glue that binds the community together is the people. The plan being successful makes the town successful."

The committee is working towards securing the remaining funds towards the $79,000 cost of the plan, with the CRC providing the initial $50,000. Various groups, ranging from the town council to the Culver Chamber and Culver Academies, are being approached to contribute.

Once work begins in earnest on the plan itself, Schoeff says information gathering by way of public meetings will be the first step, while the various stakeholders in the plan will gather information.

Then, he says, "they'll have a vision stage where they'll spend some time figuring out where they see the community going."

Next will be creation of an implementation schedule based on task identified in the plan, along with a determined time frame of completion.

"Then it's kind of handed over to use and we go from there," he adds.
All of the above, Schoeff explains, should be done this coming year. Information gathering will need to overlap between pre-summer (to include those absent when the school year is over, for example) and the busy summer season in Culver.

"Then in the fall, before everybody leaves for the winter, we'll try to make sure we get everyone's input into the plan itself. We don't want to adopt it when no one's here. "

And yes, in addition to the year round town residents, both "snow birds" and representatives of the Culver Academies community will have input.

"The Academy has to have a voice," Shoeff says. "They're the largest employer in Marshall County. Whether people want to admit it or not, they're one of the reasons Culver, Indiana is the way it is, and I'm not trying to disrespect the long term locals. Frankly, the Academy has been a local a lot longer than anyone around today!"

The comprehensive plan should not be confused with Culver's charette, which Schoeff points out focuses more on aesthetic of the town. Much of its goals have been accomplished,

"It's just like your household," adds Schoeff. "You have goals and ideas of where you want to be in ten years, but at year five you recognize certain goals won't happen because you're going down a different path. So you look at those goals again and make those changes. The comprehensive plan is no different it's a document that says, this is what we want to happen. You have to be able to adapt to what happens, like it or not. We need to have a game plan as to how we're going to handle it."

There are, of course, other major projects in the hopper for 2013. Schoeff says Jackie Wright of the Marshall County Council on Ageing will soon speak to members of the town council regarding more regular -- perhaps even daily -- public transportation for Culver's seniors.
A water study here is nearing completion, with an eye towards a new well and new water plant for Culver.

"There are some things we need to do," he says, "but it's a big enough project that you certainly don't want to go running and jumping into it...we'll consider financing: what entities or grants are available and what not."

A major, grant-funded project to replace part of Culver's storm water infrastructure -- the long-problematic section south of the Culver Elementary School and moving southwest -- is on track, Schoeff explains, with dirt expected to be moved in August and the entire project wrapped up before winter.

Culver's downtown revitalization project will reach completion this spring, mostly in paving the designated, two-block area of Main Street where last year's curb, gutter, and sidewalk replacement took place, besides creation of decorative "bump outs" and lighting in the area.

Schoeff said the town will continue to examine potential Safe Routes to School sidewalk replacement funding (several Culver sidewalks were replaced in recent years via funding from the program, though a grant application for more was rejected last year) and there are some streets in town, especially on the south side, in "dire need of repair," says the town manager.

He hopes, also, to work hard on housing and other development to enhance Culver's workforce and opportunities in that area.

"I encourage businesses to contact us," he adds. "Maybe there's not a 'For Sale' sign up, but maybe we can help out in some fashion. The town and county can give tax abatements if there's things in a TIF area."

"I was excited when I came here and I'm excited right now because I think this community is taking strides, and I hope everybody sees that...we just have to be patient, which is difficult at times. I encourage everyone to move forward, think outside the box, and take risks. It'll pay itself back."

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