More big buildings planned in western part of the county

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Developers have plans for yet more large buildings in the western part of the county.

One wants to expand its business park with several more structures while another is drafting a plan amid strong resistance from neighboring property owners.

Carmel-based Lauth Group is looking to grow its 70/Connect park along County Road 350N between County Roads 700W and 800W.

A recently finished 282,000-square-foot building kicked off that park now occupied by IFCO, a supplier of reusable plastic containers. Lauth Group is also developing a building that will be 200,000 square feet and expandable to 400,000 square feet for True Brands, a beverage accessory company. Additionally, the firm is developing a 550,000-square-foot building slated for completion in December that’s speculative, meaning an occupant has yet to be secured.

Brady Jacoba, vice president of business development for Lauth Group, told Hancock County officials at a recent county budget committee meeting that the firm is changing plans for a site in the park initially slated for multiple buildings. It now will be for one building of nearly 1.1 million square feet.

“In a public forum I can’t share too much, but I can tell you there’s a very good reason for us to be building this million-square-footer,” he said.

While the $53-million project is speculative, it’s anticipated to create about 580 jobs, Jacoba said.

Three more speculative structures are on 70/Connect’s horizon. In 14 to 18 months, Lauth Group wants to start on one that will be 937,000 square feet, estimated at $50 million and expected to create about 540 jobs. A $50 million, 920,000-square-foot building estimated to have 530 jobs is also on the docket, as is one 463,000 square feet for $44 million and with about 300 jobs.

“Really over the next five to seven years this whole series of buildings — this entire project — should be built out, depending on a lot of factors, as we all know,” Jacoba said.

Lauth Group plans to seek tax abatements for its latest projects. While it’s yet to be determined when the Hancock County Council will consider the request, officials said it won’t be until November at the earliest.

Also intending to seek a tax abatement for a proposed large development in western Hancock County is North Kansas City-based Logistics Realty Capital. The firm is eyeing nearly 70 acres south of County Road 200N, east of the Marion County line and north of Interstate 70.

Ben Applebaum of Minneapolis-based Hennepin Industrial, who’s working with Logistics Realty Capital on the development, said they continue to work on a plan for the project to present to county officials. They hope to break ground in spring 2022, he continued, adding the area and market conditions are ideal for large warehouses.

“With post-COVID supply-chain changes, everything that’s happening, we literally can’t build them fast enough,” Applebaum said. “And Mt. Comfort has got a great story from a labor perspective; it’s got all the infrastructure from a highway perspective — being able to effectively distribute throughout the east coast of the United States. It’s a very strategic location.”

The property is already zoned industrial, but the proposal has been met with strong resistance, particularly from across the border in Marion County.

Keely Butrum, a Hancock County Council member, said she hasn’t seen more written or in-person opposition to anything so far during her first year on the council.

“The remonstrance out there against speculative development in general is becoming quite a force,” she said.

Applebaum said he and Logistics Realty Capital recognize that and continue to let it inform their preparations.

“We weren’t quite there with the plan,” he said. “We’re kind of rounding the corner here. We think we have the right site plan in place. And so we’re quickly approaching the point of sitting down with the (Hancock County Board of) Commissioners, showing them the plan, talking to the neighborhood group, explaining to them some of the things that we’re putting in place to mitigate the disturbance.”

Those discussions are likely another two to three weeks away, Applebaum added.

Mary Noe, a Hancock County Council member, said disturbance mitigation is only half of the equation she and her colleagues need to pay attention to.

“What I am hearing and experiencing is that our roads are not set and equipped to handle all the traffic that these new buildings are creating,” she said. “And until these new roundabouts and these expansions of roads get in place, that’s going to be a constant problem. … I think we have got to get a handle on speeding up the roadwork or doing something to get these new businesses in and out of there in a way that doesn’t disrupt the traffic flow for the residents, or either we need to slow down the construction until the roadwork’s done.”

All of the proposed construction is for property in Buck Creek Township, whose fire chief this week expressed growing worries about his department’s ability to provide timely response for all the new development. The millions of square feet of proposed new construction and the workers and traffic those buildings will bring in will only make those worries worse.

Before entertaining a tax abatement request from Logistics Realty Capital, the county council wants the developers to discuss the project with the county commissioners. That discussion is slated for the commissioners’ next meeting, which is at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Place, Greenfield.