FORTVILLE — The court case involving Fortville’s effort to annex 644 acres of land is headed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The decision by the state’s top court to make a final ruling in the case is being cheered by the annexation’s opponents — mainly property owners fighting to remain outside town limits — and bemoaned by town leaders, who thought they had the legal edge in the matter after an appellate court ruled in favor of the town.
“Obviously, we’re a little bit disappointed,” Fortville Town Council President Bill Hiday said. “… To transfer it over to the Supreme Court is a little bit disheartening.”
Susie Whybrew, president of Fight Against Fortville Annexation, a group of property owners who organized to stop the involuntary annexation effort, lauded the transfer of the case to the Supreme Court, a move that voids the appeals court decision.
“Well, I will tell you, I was thrilled — that might be putting it mildly,” Whybrew said.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments from attorneys representing both sides of the case at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 25 on the third floor of the Indiana Statehouse.
The annexation case first went to Hancock Circuit Court in July of last year after the town approved the annexation of the unincorporated, largely agricultural property that lies between county roads 200W and 300W north of State Road 234. The annexation area includes 95 parcels, 65 homes and about 160 residents. Landowners representing more than 90 percent of the property owners opposed the annexation.
In September 2014, the court ruled in favor of the remonstrators, denying the annexation, citing that “the evidence does not support a conclusion for the need for annexation in the near future.”
But the Town of Fortville appealed, and on July 2, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the town, sending the matter back to the trial court with instructions to reconsider the case using different criteria.
Before the case went back to the trial court, however, the remonstrating property owners petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to take up case, and last week, the Supreme Court agreed to do so.
Whybrew said she is happy with the decision for several reasons. She said she feels not only will it result in the annexation being stopped for good, but it will resolve the case more quickly than returning it to the trial court level.
“It puts us closer to some closure,” she said. “It’s been a challenging 2½ years for everyone.”
She cited March 31, 2013, as the beginning of the process. “That was the day they mailed the certified letters to all of us. That was our first indication that anything was going on. That’s when we were notified of somebody else’s plans for our property.”
She said the initial court decision supported her group’s contention, that the town doesn’t need their land at this time or in the near future. She said this is just a land grab that will put the rural residents in the annexation area under town’s rules, regarding such things as open burning and handling of animals, which she said would negatively impact the rural way of life.
It also would thwart many people’s desires to keep farms operating and passed down to future generations, she added.
Hiday, who voted in favor the annexation in the council’s 3-2 decision in 2013, said Fortville is going to grow into that annexation area within a time frame that calls for preparation now, including plans for infrastructure, zoning, land use and more.
He said the appeals court got it right in recognizing municipalities’ needs to prepare for and manage development.
“Anybody that says the growth is not coming is just flat-out kidding themselves,” he said. “We want to have it be controlled and the growth we want to see.
“Too many times in government, things are done knee-jerk and in response to something that’s happened, and we are trying to be proactive,” he said. “I’m still 100 percent convinced that we are right, and that land should be annexed into town.”
10:30 a.m. Nov. 25
Town of Fortville v. Certain Fortville Annexation Terr. Landowners
Case No. 30S01-1510-MI-626
The town of Fortville adopted an ordinance annexing 644 acres of land, and some landowners in the annexation area remonstrated against the annexation. After a hearing, the Hancock Circuit Court entered judgment in favor of the landowners. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Now, the case is headed to the Supreme Court, which will make a final ruling.
Watch the arguments live online at http://mycourts.in.gov/arguments/
The Fortville Town Council is scheduled to meet in executive session at 6:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the annexation case and its transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court.