After several prior meetings going forth with an ordinance amendment which included specifications regarding private wind turbines within Culver zoning boundaries, the Culver town council put the brakes on the process at its April 22 meeting.
The town hall meeting room was nearly standing room only for the meeting, with a number of attendees apparently present in connection with the amendment, which had been drafted by Culver’s plan commission over the past year. Several public hearings – by both plan commission and council – had preceded the April 22 meeting, and the amendment had already been passed by council on first reading, but was awaiting second and third readings.
As would be noted by Russ Mason of the plan commission during the lengthy discussion of the proposed changes, the current town ordinance includes no specifications regarding private wind energy conversion systems, or wind turbines (commercial turbines were banned throughout the county some months ago), whereas the new ordinance proposes limits to size, noise levels, and location of the towers.
Audience member Henry Bilsland, of South Street in Culver, read aloud a letter he had sent the council detailing his opposition to the specifications. He noted that allowance of 120 foot towers plus 20 foot rotors made for a 140 foot structure, which he described as a “big mistake: in a community spending money and effort in beautification.
Bilsland noted the plan commission’s proposal bans the turbines in areas designated as Lake 1, Residential 1, Commercial 1, and Park 1, but allows them in all other districts provided there is a 1,500 foot setback for each tower. He described those specifications as “well meaning, but shortsighted,” and suggested locating the towers anywhere within town limits could damage property values.
He also said the proposals lacked community control of environmental testing and proper control for decommissioning and removing the towers. He added he was sure anyone attempting to place a 140 foot wind tower within the city of Plymouth would have a “major, major” problem, and he went on to suggest the town ban private wind turbines altogether.
Town manager Dave Schoeff, responding to a query from Council president Ginny Munroe, affirmed the allowed height of the turbines would be 20 feet higher than the town’s current water towers.
Also responding to a question from Munroe, Culver fire chief Terry Wakefield affirmed local fire trucks could not reach a 140 foot turbine, should it catch fire.
Audience member Curtis Schultz, also of South Street, noted the height allowance is around four times the allowed height of a house in Culver. He added he had no objection to a “small” wind turbine.
Audience member Ken Thornburg also questioned why such a height would be permissible, suggesting any turbine that size was almost certainly too expensive for a private individual to purchase and by definition would likely be a commercial enterprise, something banned in the county. He also said private towers currently erected near State Road 17 are “obtrusive” in appearance.
Mason pointed out the plan commission’s intent was to be more responsible in defining parameters regarding use of private wind systems. He also said discussion of the matter began on the plan commission last March and there were several public hearings and other opportunities for input prior to the April 22 meeting. He said the commission started with Marshall County’s ordinance regarding private systems and worked from there, using a great deal of public input.
Council member Lynn Overmyer questioned if, given the 1,500 foot setbacks required in the proposed amendment, any property within town limits would be able to erect a turbine, though audience member Kathy Clark said she had examined zoning maps and up to 10 towers were possible.
She said one discussion point in earlier meetings about the issue was whether allowing some turbines on land designated as agricultural might make buying land in Culver more attractive to farmers.
“The simplest thing is just to ban them,” said Mason.
After some discussion it was affirmed that the council only had the authority to accept or reject the amendments as proposed by the plan commission, rather than editing them or proposing something new.
In the end, the council voted to reject the proposed amendments, with Overmyer being the exception.
Near the end of the meeting, council member Bill Githens moved that the council request the plan commission draft legislation banning wind turbines entirely within Culver’s zoning boundaries. The council approved the motion, with Overmyer the lone opposing vote.
NEW PARK BOARD MEMBER
The council also passed the somewhat debated ordinance to allow the Culver Community School board to choose a representative to the Culver park board from outside the school board’s own membership.
The ordinance had already passed on first reading only, at the council’s previous meeting, but due to council member Ed Pinder’s “nay” vote, the council had to wait until the current meeting to make a second vote.
At the April 22 meeting, Pinder explained his reason for voting against the ordinance, explaining he had attended a number of park board meetings during the past year and a half and felt nothing his suggestions as to what was best for the town were disregarded by that board. He added that opening up the vacant park board position to the entire community, rather than just the membership of the school board as had been previously allowed, would open the position up to someone with a boat slip, whereas almost everyone on the park board currently has a boat slip at the park.
“I feel the people on the park board are more interested in boat slips than things the people in town want,” said Pinder, such as a new restroom in the west end of the park and a new storage building. “I think the people on the park board should have different interests.”
He added opening up the position to the town as a whole could facilitate current park board members seeking to fill the vacancy with a friend.
Munroe countered that she felt opening up the position to the entire town and township “is about as diversified as possible,” and council member Sally Ricciardi added that school board members are elected by the taxpayers.
“If we can trust them with the school, we can trust them to find a member for the park board that they feel is responsible.”
Pinder said he wouldn’t vote against the move this time, and it passed on second and third (final) readings.
In other park-related news, park board member Patty Stallings said the board voted the previous day to hire Mark Hayden of Plymouth as the new park superintendent, explaining the search process began in January with 11 applications (none of which came from the town or township), six of whom were interviewed.
She said Hayden was superintendent of Plymouth parks and recreation for 18 years and has a degree in parks and recreation from Purdue as well as advanced certification in a number of relevant areas.
Hayden will continue to live in Plymouth and commute to Culver. She added Hayden’s references were extremely positive.
She also described the four committees – policy, finance, buildings, and piers – appointed by the park board, noting in most cases half the members don’t have boat slips
The council approved a healthcare insurance plan for its employees in the form of an IACT (the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns) Medical Trust plan with PPO Plan C and savings plan H, as well as Schoeff’s proposal that those Culver residents who “trickled” their water to avoid frozen pipes be billed via an average of their February and March water bills from the past three years. It was noted 122 households trickled, and around 20 had frozen pipes in the wake of recent cold weather.
Related to the water discussion, Schoeff said one property owner whose pipes had been frozen requested not to pay the minimum water and sewer fees, since neither were available to him during the freeze. Council members, however, countered that all property owners, unless they designate they wish their water and sewer shut off, must pay the minimum fees, which go towards maintenance of the town’s systems.
Schoeff proposed those with frozen pipes pay $34. 92 to cover the town’s debt services, stormwater fee, fire protection, and administration fee for billing, rather than the $48 to $51 regular minimum fee.
Ricciardi, however, said to do so would be to open “a can of worms” such as those who have leaky pipes and shut off their water for a month requesting the same accommodation.
In the end, the council voted those whose pipes froze pay the standard minimum fee for water and sewer.
Revisiting an issue debated at its prior meeting, the council voted – with Ricciardi opposed – to charge the property owner at a Lake Street house $686.70 to cover late fees regarding water bills, since the town had been unable to contact her for some time.
In all, the previous renter at the house accrued a $1,900 water bill during that renter’s stay from August of 2012 through February of 2013. After that date, the water at the house was shut off, but minimum fees continued to be applied.
Schoeff, referring to the previous discussion, emphasized he felt the town should make it a policy to generate better documentation of those who open utility accounts with the town, and go after renters to reclaim monies owed, rather than landlords. The town will file in small claims court against the renter.
Also approved was town attorney Jim Clevenger discussing with NIPSCO their request for an easement to place utility poles and lines on property owned at the northwest of town. The land, he noted, had been donated to the town with restrictions that it remain for environmental purposes, and thus the easement can’t be granted in the manner requested by NIPSCO.
During his town manager’s report, Schoeff noted the town of Culver would only qualify for $400,000 in grant money towards its $1.5 million water plant project, rather than the $500,000 originally hoped for from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The town will know in a few months whether or not the grant request was approved.
Schoeff also reported the Culver Redevelopment Commission had just approved a match of up to $700,000 for an Indiana Dept. of Transportation grant for which the town will apply to overhaul the stormwater system in the ‘uptown’ commercial district on Lake Shore Drive. Munroe noted an engineering study had been done of the area, and the $3.5 million overhaul which was recommended included not only stormwater, but new lighting, road reconstruction, and beautification similar to that done in recent months and years in the downtown area.
Kathy Clark of the CRC reported it has engages attorneys Barnes & Thornburg to expand Culver’s TIF 1 district.
EMS director Brandon Cooper told the council five members of the department just completed and passed an Advanced EMT class. Three members are scheduled to take their state skills test and then will take their national-level skills test.
He reported a total of 24 ambulance calls in February and 28 in March, with 89 total calls for the year so far.
The council approved a request from fire chief Terry Wakefield for $3,490 to repair a water leak in Engine 2, as well as $5,457 to repair a sewer plant pump as requested by Schoeff. Also approved was town clerk Karen Heim’s request for $1,650 to HR Unlimited Resources to resolve some payroll and IRS issues.
Approved also was a request from Culver Academies student and Culver resident Amber Cowell to place purple bows and signs in town promoting this year’s Relay for Life fundraiser to fight cancer, which will take place May 9 and 10 on the Academies campus. This year’s goal, she explained, is $125,000. A banner promoting the May 10 Naturepalooza event was also approved.
Audience member Jean Rakich asked the town to revisit whether a property on South Main Street near Emmanuel church should be condemned. Ricciardi noted the house had not, in the past, met the criteria for condemnation.
Kevin Berger, Culver’s representative to the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation, introduced new MCEDC director Jerry Chavez, who said he has practices in Arizona, Montana, and North Dakota, and is excited to be in Marshall County.
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