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Fortville foes present annexation arguments

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GREENFIELD — Their time had finally come.

The remonstrators fighting against Fortville’s annexation attempt had their day in court Monday, and the fate of the issue is now in the hands of Hancock Circuit Judge Richard Culver, who presided over an unusual one-day trial. He is expected to deliver his ruling within 30 days.

The arguments for annexation and against it were familiar: Remonstrators and their attorney, Stephen Buschmann, focused on the fairness of adapting farm land for development purposes. Fortville attorney Alex Intermill, presenting the case for annexation, argued that annexing the property is necessary for future growth and to give Fortville more control over its destiny.

“It is needed and can be used by the municipality in the near future,” Intermill said.

He said that Fortville had satisfied all necessary conditions under the law to proceed with the annexation, and that there was only one issue for the court: whether or not the town needs and can use the annexation territory. According to Intermill, remonstrators were unable to show that there was inadequate protection and services in the area.

The remonstrators do not believe growth is coming to the Fortville area, and Buschmann said it was the town’s burden to show how exactly the land will be developed.

According to Intermill, the town has shown it can extend sewer and water to the area and already covers the annexation territory with road maintenance and public safety protection.

“The evidence shows this is not a land grab,” Intermill said.

All witnesses called by Buschmann said the same thing: They want to continue farming their land and have no intentions of selling or developing their land for another use. They also said they have never been approached about selling their land for development.

Farm owners in the area who testified included Tony Garst, Teresa Hulburt, Phyllis Kingen and Richard Reichenbach, along with landowners Paul and Susie Whybrew.

Reichenbach, who resides at a home on Ind. 234, does not live in the annexation zone, but he owns about 160 acres of farmland inside it. He said the land was more productive than other land in the area and that he has made numerous improvements to the land.

All the farmers who testified are multi-generation farmers who want to keep the land in their families. None of them said they had been asked by a developer for the land. “We are farmers. This is our livelihood,” Kingen said.

Susie Whybrew testified that 82 percent of the so-called Reduced Annexation Zone was already agricultural and that building permit history simply did not lead her to believe that development was on its way.

The Reduced Annexation Zone includes 65 homes, 644 acres, 97 land parcels and 162 residents, according to figures supplied by O.W. Krohn and Associates. The area is a smaller portion of a much larger annexation proposal laid out in early 2013.

Fortville Town Council President Bill Hiday testified and said he sought to dispel the misconception that the town will control the land after annexation.

“We need to protect the best financial interests of Fortville,” Hiday said.

Fortville leadership would be able to keep out problematic development such as high-density housing, and Intermill compared the situation to Stansbury subdivision near McCordsville, where farmland was sold for high-density housing and McCordsville officials initially had no input. Intermill said the annexation would protect Fortville and use “responsible development.”

Fortville Police Chief Bill Knauer testified that his department’s officers are already making regular runs to the annexation territory, pulling resources out of town to address the needs of people outside it.

 “We are responding to that area now,” Knauer said.

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