Warehouse delayed again

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HANCOCK COUNTY — The way a vote split combined with a lack of Hancock County Advisory Plan Commission members present at their most recent meeting delayed a decision over a contentious proposed warehouse another month.

Exeter Property Group wants to rezone 40 acres at the northeast corner of county roads 300N and 400W from agricultural to an industrial business park designation for an over 523,000-square-foot building. The development would be speculative, meaning an occupant has yet to be identified.

While only five of the county plan commission’s seven members were present at their most recent meeting, a majority of four was still required to pass a recommendation to the Hancock County Board of Commissioners. Michael Long and Bill Spalding, who’s also a county commissioner, voted in favor of a favorable recommendation for Exeter’s rezone while Wendell Hester, Byron Holden and Tom Nigh voted against. Bill Bolander and Renee Oldham were not present. The 2-3 split tabled the consideration to the plan commission’s October meeting.

It followed the developer’s request to continue the consideration from the plan commission’s August meeting in order to have time to meet with concerned property owners.

At the plan commission meeting, officials discussed how Hancock County’s comprehensive plan, drafted in 2005 before an in-house update in 2012, calls for the area Exeter is eyeing to be for business park uses, which includes warehousing. The county’s thoroughfare plan also calls for county roads 300N and 400W to be improved to take on more traffic.

If the project comes to fruition, Exeter would resurface County Road 300N along the property’s frontage as well as County Road 400W if access is added there. The developer would also dedicate right-of-way along both roads for the county to have for future road widening. Exeter submitted a traffic report on the proposed project to county engineer Gary Pool as well to aid in possible ideas for other improvements.

Mike Dale, executive director of the county plan commission, supports the proposal.

“I would say it is an area that supports agricultural, industrial and residential uses,” Dale said. “It’s consistent with the county’s long-range plan that supports further industrialization of this area, and is adjacent to county roads planned for high volumes of traffic. The highway department is pursuing and implementing public improvements to accommodate the additional demand on infrastructure in this area.”

Joe Calderon, a lawyer with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis representing Exeter, noted the three other quadrants of the intersection the developer is looking to join are already zoned industrial business park. Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group continues to develop its Mount Comfort Logistics Center directly west and south of the site Exeter is eyeing.

“We know that there’s been a lot of frustration from a neighbor perspective,” Calderon said. “We totally get that. This is a change from what has typically been a rural area. … We can’t control everything, but we can control our site, and we can control how we operate and how we develop our site.”

He added that Exeter changed its site plan to create more room along the east side of the property, increasing the setback for an 8-foot-tall berm. Four-foot berming was added to the site’s north side as well.

Resistance to the proposed project remains significant, Dale said.

“I have received a lot of remonstrance and opposition to this proposal — at least 32 emails and letters form local landowners expressing strong opposition to this project,” he said.

Concerns include an increase in semitrailer traffic, a decrease to property values, a desire for other kinds of business uses other than warehousing, continued strains on public safety agencies, and a desire for such rezones to be delayed until the county’s comprehensive plan update is completed.

Brian Jarman, who lives near the proposed site, said he appreciated Exeter meeting with neighbors and that he recognizes industrial growth is coming to the area.

“But I’d like for our new, revised comprehensive plan to take into account preexisting landowners like myself in this area, take into account our needs, our wants and our ability to coexist,” he said.

Holden, one of the plan commission members to vote against the favorable recommendation, pointed out that while the county’s current comprehensive plan may identify the proposed Exeter site as business park, it also indicates another Interstate 70 interchange is needed between State Road 9 and Mt. Comfort Road. He said that would justify more business uses by giving the resulting increase in traffic closer access to the interstate and keeping it off all the county roads in the area that can’t handle it.

For Nigh, another opposed plan commission member, the proposal would extend the county’s booming western development slightly farther than he’s comfortable with.

“I get a little concerned about leapfrogging to the east,” he said.

Comparisons were made during the meeting to a failed rezone Indianapolis-based GDI Construction sought earlier this summer just to the east of the Exeter proposal for three buildings totaling nearly 2.3 million square feet.

Long, one of the plan commission members who supported Exeter’s proposal, said while it’s close to the area GDI considered, it’s different enough to deserve approval. County officials have better information on road plans this time around, he continued, adding the Exeter site already abuts industrial zoning.

“Obviously a big concern was traffic,” Long said. “We haven’t had a developer come to us that shared that they had a traffic study. That’s something that we’re not seeing much of with these developers. And they made a commitment to act on that traffic study at the direction of our highway engineer.”

Earlier in September, the Hancock County Council approved on the first of two readings a tax abatement for the Exeter project, should it come to fruition, that would gradually phase in the taxes on the real property improvements over 10 years.