Cumberland annexation headed for trial

CUMBERLAND — A judge has decided to send Cumberland’s proposal to draw about 300 acres of rural Hancock County land into its town limits to trial for a final decision.

During a hearing this week, Hancock County Superior Court I Judge Terry Snow ruled the 14 property owners who have signed a petition against the annexation represent a significant portion of the residents affected by the town’s plans — and they deserve their day in court to argue against the proposal.

Attorneys representing both the town and the residents against the annexation will have a chance to develop cases to argue before a judge at a later trial, a date for which hasn’t been set.

The case is now in a pretrial phase, during which each side works to gather evidence.

The 286-acre annexation — which would increase the town’s size by about 20 percent – affects 32 properties along the north and south sides of U.S. 40 between county roads 700W and 600W.

Those properties would retain their existing Hancock County addresses but would receive services, including fire and police protection, from Cumberland.

Members of the Cumberland Town Council approved the measure in January 2015, but several property owners since have come out against the proposal, citing concerns over increased property tax rates and possible fees for hooking up to town utilities.

Any increase to the affected residents’ property taxes would cover Cumberland services, including police patrols and fire runs.

Anna Pea, a member of the Cumberland Town Council, said she’s confident the town’s proposal will succeed.

The town wants to improve the property in the proposed territory and plans to do so by attracting economic development to the area, Pea said.

Cumberland has little room left for growth within its current limits, and the town council has set its sights east, she said.

If the town secures the land, any new construction will be held to Cumberland’s existing standards for properties along U.S. 40, including requirements for setbacks and building materials, said Christine Owens, town planning and development director.

The majority of the affected land is currently used for agricultural purposes.

David Hulse, who owns a four-unit apartment building along U.S. 40 in the affected territory, opposes the annexation.

All of the tenants in the building are retirees living on fixed incomes, Hulse said, so an increase in rent payments is out of the question, Hulse said. If taxes increase, he’ll be left to foot the bill, he said.

In 2014, the town approved a 182-acre eastward annexation along U.S. 40 between county roads 800W and 700W, which received little opposition from residents and business owners.

But Cumberland’s plans mark the second contentious annexation proposal in recent years in Hancock County. In recent weeks, the Indiana Supreme Court ended a years-long battle between the town of Fortville and more than 100 property owners of 644 acres the town sought to annex. The court ruled the town had not shown sufficient need to expand to the south, bringing the annexation effort to a halt after nearly three years.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.