Letter to the editor: Residents have little voice in development decisions

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To the editor:

This is an open letter to all Hancock County officials who vote or have influence on tax abatements, industrial development decisions and rezoning requests.

While it was encouraging to see the Hancock County Council take action on modifying the tax abatement structure to have less negative impact on schools and public services, it was disheartening to read in the Sept. 10, 2021, edition of the Daily Reporter that the county council actually gave initial approval in a 6-1 vote for an abatement on a proposed building that Exeter Property Group wants to develop at 3826 and 3838 W. County Road 300N. (Thank you to Keely Butrum for casting that No vote.) The problem? The matter of the rezoning for this development has not yet been heard by the Hancock County Plan Commission, and the council’s action will have a chilling effect on the opportunity for property owners to remonstrate.

The matter of this 40-acre property was on the Aug. 24 plan commission agenda for a rezone request from Agricultural to Industrial Business Park; however, Exeter requested a continuance and wanted an opportunity to meet with nearby property owners to hear their concerns. This meeting occurred Sept. 1. Residents expressed their displeasure with another big spec building in the area and cited concerns for over-building; damage to their property value and quality of life; safety; inadequate roads; light and sound pollution; and work force shortages. The rezone request now is scheduled for the Sept. 28 plan commission meeting, and property owners will have the opportunity to ask the plan commissioners to vote No. Nevertheless, the Hancock County Commissioners will have the final vote.

I must be naïve, because I thought the system in Hancock County would be fair and officials would respond favorably to residents’ valid concerns. Sadly, this is what I have learned in the six months I have been advocating against the West Allocation Area and the unbridled industrial development in the Mount Comfort Corridor.

1. Money talks, and big corporations hire the right attorneys and brokers to help them get their own way.

2. Hancock County standards and procedures favor developers to the detriment of residential property owners.

3. Requesting a rezone from Agricultural to IBP is worth the risk to developers, as it will cost much more per acre for industrial zoned land, and they are rarely denied.

4. The system gives residents only a token voice to remonstrate, as developers have already worked in advance with Hancock County departments to pave the way for their projects’ approval.

5. The opportunity to remonstrate comes too late in the process.

6. Buffering standards to separate industrial and residential properties are too low in Hancock County and don’t protect nearby homeowners.

7. Homeowners’ efforts to have a resident from western Hancock County with a non-business interest appointed to the Steering Committee for the Comprehensive Plan have proven to be impossible.

8. Residents on West 300N and those near the Red Rock development have been contacting Hancock County officials for years with these concerns and have had little success.

Many homeowners have attended public meetings and have poured out their hearts to county officials, asking for this industrial overdevelopment to stop. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to make that happen:

1. Coordinate with the Office of Economic Development to ensure smart, measured industrial growth.

2. Stop approving rezoning requests for industrial development on land zoned agricultural or residential.

3. Stop granting tax abatements.

4. Put claw-back provisions in tax abatement contracts that are granted.

Hancock County citizens do have a powerful tool – the ballot box. Our READI grant for state funding is touting Hancock County as having “quality of place.” Those of us who have found our quality of place in Hancock County eroding will be looking to vote for candidates who are willing to protect the interests of homeowners rather than cater to big business.

Sandra Hudson

McCordsville