County warms to apartment plans after revisions

The updated plans for a proposed expansion of Eastway Court Apartments in western Hancock County feature three-unit townhomes with pitched roofs and dimensional shingles. (Submitted image)

HANCOCK COUNTY — A property management company is back with a new plan for expanding an apartment community, and county authorities are much more supportive than in the first go-around.

The firm’s revised idea drops 30 units and changes the architecture for the proposed townhomes.

Indianapolis-based Renewing Management, owner of Eastway Court Apartments on the north side of U.S. 40 east of County Road 700W, wants to expand the community onto about 30 acres to the north. Plans call for three-unit townhomes, a total of 64 one-bedroom units and 128 two-bedroom units, for a total of 64 structures and 192 units. The units would be at least 750 square feet and lease for the market rate.

Plans for Eastway Court Apartments' expansion propose 64 three-unit townhomes with gathering areas, walking trails, a dog park, playground and community gardens. (Submitted image)
Plans for Eastway Court Apartments’ expansion propose 64 three-unit townhomes with gathering areas, walking trails, a dog park, playground and community gardens. (Submitted image)

Renewing Management is asking the county to rezone the land from its current residential designation to a planned unit development, which would set specific development standards the firm and county would agree to.

In March, Renewing Management sought the rezone for 74 townhomes totaling 222 units. Through a 6-1 vote, the Hancock County Plan Commission gave the county commissioners an unfavorable recommendation for that petition. The proposal drew concerns from residents living in the area and also from Cumberland officials.

Renewing Management withdrew its request and headed back to the drawing board. David Gilman, the firm’s zoning consultant for the project, told plan commission members last week that the process included working with neighbors.

“We took it upon ourselves to make sure that we did everything we possibly could do to come back to this commission with something that was significantly different, and we feel that this is the best plan that could’ve ever come out of what we had before,” Gilman said.

One of the concerns stemming from the first proposal was the effect the extra traffic would have on the single entrance/exit point for Eastway Court at Manor Drive and U.S. 40. In response to that, Renewing Management commissioned a traffic study, which recommended adding a left turn lane on eastbound U.S. 40 and warning signs 500 feet east and west of Manor Drive indicating the intersection is ahead. Gilman said he’s confident in the Indiana Department of Transportation’s willingness to approve the additions.

If the rezone is approved and the project moves forward, a construction entrance would come off U.S. 40 west of Manor Drive and extend to the expansion site on land Renewing Management has under contract. When the expansion is developed, that entrance would be maintained as a secondary entrance for public safety agencies to use.

Another concern over the initial proposal was the appearance of the structures, which included flat, poly-fiber membrane roofs. Now, they feature pitched roofs with dimensional shingles.

The development would also have gathering areas, walking trails, a dog park, a playground, community gardens and benches.

While standards would dictate distances between the townhomes, the structures wouldn’t be on traditional lots with delineated front, side and back yards.

“The reason we do this is because that private yard is more valuable to our community if it’s in part of a community area,” Gilman said. “… We’re giving the people more space to be more active than they would be if we just had individual private backyards for everybody.”

The plan commission voted 6-1 to give the county commissioners a favorable recommendation for the updated rezone request, with Bill Bolander, Wendell Hester, Mike Long, Tom Nigh, Renee Oldham and Bill Spalding voting in favor, and Byron Holden voting against.

“This is definitely a better plan than what we were presented the first time,” Oldham said.

She admitted she still struggled with the proposed sizes of the units, however.

Amanda Warren, vice president of operations for Renewing Management, sought to ease that concern by reporting Eastway Court Apartments stays 100% occupied across its 286 existing units, which range from 400 to 784 square feet across a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. Most of the buildings in the complex date to the late 1950s and 1960s.

“We’re looking at singles, we’re looking at newlyweds, were looking at grandparents … small families, single moms and kids,” Warren said. “There definitely is a market for smaller family homes.”

At the meeting for the initial proposal, Gilman said monthly rents would range from about $700 for one-bedroom units and $900 to $950 for two-bedroom units.

Holden, who cast the sole nay vote, wasn’t as enamored by the proposed development’s public space.

“There’s not much area that people have at all for their own area to sit outside,” he said. “I’m a little bit concerned about if there’s conflict between this closeness.”

One meeting attendee — Bill McDonald, who lives in the nearby Woodcrest neighborhood — spoke against the proposal.

“Obviously these folks have gone through a lot of work,” he said. “I appreciate that, but you can’t get around the fact that Eastway is a duck out of water. It just doesn’t belong there. Stuffing 64 more units in that area is not going to change that. It just doesn’t belong where it is, and making more of it, no matter how nice it is, is not going to change that fact. It’s just in the wrong place.”

If the county commissioners approve the rezone, Renewing Management hopes to start construction in early spring 2022 and complete later that fall or in spring 2023.

Renewing Management also has about 130 acres between Eastway Court Apartments and County Road 700W under contract. Gilman said the company intends to go before the town of Cumberland in the next two to three years with plans for some kind of commercial development along U.S. 40, possibly a townhome development north of that, and potentially a single-family development north of that. Stub streets in Eastway Court Apartments’ proposed expansion would connect to streets in that area.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Eastway Court Apartments expansion

  • 30 acres north of existing community north of U.S. 40, east of County Road 700W
  • Three-unit townhomes
  • 64 one-bedroom units
  • 128 two-bedroom units
  • Each unit at least 750 square feet
  • Monthly rents ranging from $700 to $950
  • Gathering areas
  • Walking trails
  • Dog park
  • Playground
  • Community gardens