State’s high court kills Fortville annexation

FORTVILLE — Fortville’s years-long effort to annex 644 acres of land south of town is dead after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of property owners against the move.

Susie Whybrew said she was ecstatic when she opened an email Thursday morning that contained the 10-page ruling.

In 2013, Fortville passed a resolution to annex almost 6,000 acres; a year later, the town reduced the area to 644 acres, comprised of 95 parcels of land, 65 homes and about 160 residents. More than 90 percent of the residents opposed the annexation, arguing the town had no plans for its future development, which would justify the annexation.

Whybrew, a leader of the property owners who fought the town and its annexation effort, said she’s been anxiously awaiting the court’s decision for the past month.

“It’s definitely a banner day for all of us out here in the (annexation area),” Whybrew said.

The Supreme Court heard arguments from attorneys on both sides in the case Nov. 25.

A trial court had previously ruled in favor of property owners opposing the annexation; but the town appealed the decision and won, sending the case back to the trial court. But before the case returned to the trial court, the property owners asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, which it did.

Thursday’s decision upholds the original trial court decision in favor of the remonstrators — the property owners fighting annexation.

The Supreme Court ruling states a contention Fortville made in its successful appeal — that there was sufficient evidence the annexation area “was needed and can be used for Fortville’s development in the reasonably near future” — had been weighed correctly by the trial court that ruled against the town.

Calls to Fortville Town Council members Bill Hiday and Janet Manship were not returned by press time.

Councilman Tim Hexamer, who has been on the council since January and hadn’t yet read the ruling, declined to comment on it.

Now that the case is over, relations between the town and some of its residents might heal, he said.

“I do know there was quite a bit of friction with the people who didn’t want annexation and the town,” he said.

Florence May, who was part of the original larger annexation area but not the smaller one, said Thursday she was in “a little bit of shock” after receiving an email from the remonstrators’ attorney, Stephen R. Buschmann.

“I am pleased because this is a statement to the towns, that they must view annexations through the lens, ‘Are we truly moving toward development?’” she said.

She said the remonstators are “not a group that’s opposed to annexation on its face,” just that in this case it doesn’t make sense for the town to take in property that is not close to being developed.

The ruling notes “unrebutted evidence shows that Fortville has no plans to build roads through the territory …; or provide sanitary sewer service until unspecified development moves into the Annexation Territory …; or provide parks and recreation services to the Annexation Territory.”

The court also pointed to a 775-acre annexation Fortville approved in 2007 that included 500 acres of farmland that has not been developed.

Fortville town manager Joe Renner said he hadn’t yet read the ruling, but it doesn’t change things in town, where “there are a lot of good things going on.”

“I say we just keep plugging away — business as usual,” Renner said.

If the court had ruled in the town’s favor, “we would have welcomed them with open arms,” he said.

Whybrew said the case caused many people much anxiety and that Thursday brought relief.

“I am very happy that it’s finally over, for now.”