Site chosen for Culver affordable housing development

The 'Sand Hill Farm' area on West Jefferson Street hoped for entry level housing development in Culver, as outlined by Kevin Berger on his Easterday Construction blog, linked in this article.
By: 
Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

Culver's town council last month made its first formal move in the direction of affordable -- or entry-level -- housing development, even if a few audience members at the Sept. 22 meeting had some reservations.

If the project proceeds according to council wishes, a combination of apartments and stand-alone houses will be in the works on West Jefferson Street at property owned by Kevin Berger, north of the area occupied today by the `Puter Pit Stop on that street (as far back as this 2008 entry in his Easterday Construction blog, Berger has been discussing the site, which he dubbed "Sand Hill Farm" - http://easterdayconstruction.com/2008/06/11/sand-hill-farm-pud/).

The endeavor is the result of months of efforts by an entry-level housing committee formed last year by the council.

Town manager Jonathan Leist explained that Culver's Redevelopment Commission recently allocated $200,000 towards the project, which earlier this year involved the housing committee's reaching out for a developer capable of handling the effort.

The council discussed that the CRC funds could be used either towards purchase of the mobile home park on the south side of West Jefferson, with the intention of developing new housing there, or alternately towards running utilities from town to the edge of the Berger property, whose larger size would allow for more development than the mobile home site.

Various cost estimates were discussed concerning the Berger property, including the lowest at $200,000, but also a price point of $393,000 to run utilities to the center of Berger's 25 acres, as well as $540,000 to run utilities to the northern end of the site. It was noted some decision needed to be made at the council meeting to allow the Carmel, Indiana-based developer to apply for federal grant funding to move it forward this fall.

CRC member Tom Yuhas listed several "pros" and "cons" of each site, noting the town could be stuck with the mobile home park property if it was purchased and the development went forward. Of most concern to several council members was another downside to that land: the displacement of nine families of individuals currently residing there.

It was noted that rent on apartments at the new development would likely come in at $400 to $800 per month. Further, some council members noted that any initial development at the Berger site could be added to in the future, given the size of the property and the willingness of Berger himself to support the project.

Audience member Sue McInturff said the mobile home park was something of an eyesore, and expressed support for having it removed.

Council member Dave Beggs expressed similar concerns, but said developing at the Berger property would also give families in the mobile homes a chance to move to the new housing. He pointed to the struggle to keep families in town and the reduction in local student populace, as arguments against forcing mobile home park residents to move.

Audience member Patty Stallings asked if townspeople had been consulted as to their support for affordable housing in Culver.

Council president Ginny Munroe explained the venture grew from extensive community conversations leading up to Culver's comprehensive plan, which made affordable housing a priority in its final incarnation. The subsequent five-year action plan growing from the comprehensive plan and starting last year also targeted affordable housing. Further, she said the major target for affordable housing centered on three groups: Culver Academies and Culver Community Schools faculty, and Elkay employees, with the notation that only 17 percent (or about 55 individuals) of the latter plant's employees live in Culver. Munroe added that, with fewer families and teachers at the community school living in Culver, the school corporation has had increased struggles in securing coaching and other after-school activity support. She said groups in those salary ranges, rather than impoverished individuals, were the target group in the town's work.

Stallings and fellow audience member Tom Kearns also asked how the town could ensure that residents of new developments would not use them as second residences during the summer for lake recreation, though Yuhas said anyone with the income to do so would not qualify for the new housing.

Yuhas went on to explain that income projections relate partly to the average income for Marshall County, which is $45,000, meaning apartment units in the new development would be targeted at individuals making 60 percent of that average, or $27,000 or less. That ceiling would increase with each additional occupant in a given apartment. He also said a "score card" system gives points for each preferred attribute of the development in the eyes of the government, such as environmental friendliness. The developer -- who has developed similar projects across Indiana -- would own the properties for 15 years as part of the arrangement.
McInturff asserted that Culver already has a low-income apartment complex located on the north end of Forest Place, and expressed some concern that the new development would replicate that one. Munroe, however, said the Forest Place complex is designated as Section 8 housing, which includes allowance that residents have no income whatsoever. The new project is planned as a Section 43 development, which requires a minimum income level of at least $13,500 per person.

In response to Stallings' suggestion that the council wait longer to further consider the project, Ricciardi said efforts towards it had been months in the making and that waiting another year would change none of the dynamics. She moved that the project move forward with the Berger property, pending successful grant application from the developer, something the council approved unanimously.

The council also approved spending the CRC funds to run infrastructure utilities to the edge of that property, with Beggs abstaining in favor of running utilities instead to the middle of the property.

In response to Kearns' concerns that the town is going too far in assisting the developer with the project, Munroe reiterated the repeated calls for affordable housing in Culver, and council member Jean Rakich noted a similar move was made to facilitate the Garden Court senior housing facility on South Main Street. It was also noted that "many other properties and possibilities" were investigated leading up to the current project.

Complete coverage of the council meeting appeared in the Oct. 1 edition of The Culver Citizen. Subscriptions to both the print and the digital "E" edition of the paper are available here: http://thepilotnews.com/subscriptions

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