Culver council sends controversial zoning decision back to plan commission

Concerned residents not only filled the meeting room at Culver’s town hall last Tuesday, but spilled into the hallways and office space as well, as Culver’s town council heard details on possible rezoning from Ralph Booker of the Marshall County Plan Commission.

The controversy grew from what had originally been a county-wide effort to identify parcels of land in which part of the land was legally located in Marshall County and the other part outside town limits, in the county.

According to Booker, the effort included Argos, Bourbon, Bremen, Plymouth, and other communities, with 59 parcels in the Culver area potentially affected. Booker, projecting several area maps onto a screen, said he worked with Culver building commissioner Russ Mason towards determinations on the parcels, which included land on 20A, 20th, 19B, 18A, Thorn, 16th, and Redwood Road, among others.

He said he and Mason presented their recommendations to Culver’s plan commission at its April 17 meeting, after which that commission passed its recommendations on to the council, where Booker spoke Tuesday night as part of a legal public hearing on the matter.

Of particular interest to some audience members were the implications of zoning changes at certain locations. County Agricultural, or A1, zoning is considerably more relaxed regarding height of structures, for example, than S1, or Suburban zoning in a municipality like Culver. Thus, some landowners previously free to build or use the land in agricultural contexts would be forced to request a variance from the town of Culver. Similarly, owners of some land previously under Culver’s jurisdiction might be freer to use the land as they wish, regardless of Culver’s zoning ordinances, another source of some controversy.

Council members Ginny Munroe and Ed Pinder raised concerns especially for farmers presently outside Culver’s zoning boundaries, but whose properties might be included in the town’s rules under the new zoning.

Mason replied that discussion on Culver’s plan commission centered on similar concerns, and members agreed that local ordinances should aim to treat local farmland as “true farmland” by enhancing the specifics of its allowed use. He said he has a draft to that effect he will present the plan commission. Audience member Joe Neidlinger expressed concerns that his land, north of Culver proper, could be compromised as farmland if rezoned into Culver’s municipality.

Patty Stallings, in the audience, emphasized that rezoning around Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee could open up land previously under Culver’s municipal control to development by Nextera, the company proposing a wind farm in the area in recent years.

Culver’s plan commission said Mason, “recognizes this, too.” He said under his and Booker’s proposal, if the majority of a given parcel falls within the town of Culver’s zoning, it would revert to being fully within Culver, while parcels primarily outside Culver’s zoning boundaries would revert completely to Marshall County for zoning purposes.

“Whoever has the largest parcel gets the jurisdiction,” he added, noting the plan commission “changed its mind” at its last meeting, rescinding the vote taken at the April 17 public hearing.

“If we rescinded (the vote),” interjected Booker, “we probably shouldn’t be here.”

Booker went on to apologize to the council, saying he wasn’t notified of the change in the plan commission’s decision. Munroe expressed concern that a public hearing took place and the decision made there was rescinded without a second public hearing. She also expressed concern in conjunction with several audience comments about the possible loss of farming capabilities under the new zoning.

“I think the farmers understand what being in the county implies verses being in town,” she said. “I think we need to send this entire thing back to the plan commission to have them explain exactly what they want,” said council president Sally Ricciardi.

Council member Lynn Overmyer put her suggestion into a motion, which the council voted into action, after which the public hearing was closed.

Council also approved member Bill Githens’ suggestion that a “meet and greet” for Culver’s new town manager, David Schoeff, Wednesday, June 6 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Culver Public Library. Schoeff will officially start his work June 4.

Approved also were: a request from town utilities manager Bob Porter for two new handheld meter readers at $6,049; a new reuse pump for Culver’s sewer plant, at $4,260; a request from Patty Stallings for a section of Jefferson Street to be shut down June 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Taste of Culver festival; and a construction inspection contract with DLZ Engineers for their work on Culver’s downtown revitalization, a grant-funded endeavor to start Sept. 1. Town attorney Jim Clevenger noted the Jan. 1, 2013 start date pertained to DLZ completing its final paperwork following the project, rather than indicating the start date of the project as had been feared at the previous council meeting.

In response to a question from Charlotte Rakich, in the audience, Porter explained a new footer in the back of the former Hansen’s restaurant on Lake Shore Drive has caused sewer problems at the movie theater next door. Some audience members noted the building, currently under renovation, might be a hazard to a pedestrian or cyclist too close to its sidewalk-abutting exterior. Mason said he would speak to the present building owner about the concerns.

Mason also said the county health department is sending notice to two properties on Obispo Street which need to be secured and possibly torn down. The primary concern, he said, is “varmints” occupying the houses. Mason said he had the county health inspector examine a house on South Main Street, but it was not deemed a health hazard.