Council narrowly OKs tax breaks for warehouse space


HANCOCK COUNTY — Incentive approvals squeaked by for five large buildings planned on the county’s west side.

The Hancock County Council voted 4-3 in favor of tax abatements for the developments, all of which are speculative, meaning no occupants have yet been identified. One of the deals puts a roadblock in McCordsville leaders’ vision for the future of the town’s south side. All of the projects continue a process the county is starting that asks for developers to contribute money to services like public safety and schools.

Exeter Property Group is planning two buildings — one over 1 million square feet and one over 677,000 square feet — at the northwest corner of county roads 500W and 500N. After an initial approval last month, the county council gave its final authorization for phasing in taxes on the development’s real property improvements earlier this week with Bill Bolander, Kent Fisk, Robin Lowder and Jim Shelby voting in favor and Keely Butrum, Jeannine Gray and Mary Noe voting against.

The property abuts McCordsville’s eastern border on the town’s south side. Town leaders were hoping to one day annex the land and continue extending a planned road called Aurora Way east from Mt. Comfort Road.

Larry Longman, a McCordsville Town Council member, told county council members about the area’s appeal for the town.

“We wanted to be sure that you guys were aware of what our interest is and help protect us for making the entire county a better place,” Longman said. “…As far as Exeter’s project, we support that. That’s a good future land use, but I think on that same notion, we want it to be in the town of McCordsville. We want to see that annexed in there.”

Fisk, one of the county council members who voted in favor of Exeter’s tax abatement, wasn’t keen on letting McCordsville get the development.

“This board here, this council, is in charge of the unincorporated areas in the county and protecting those unincorporated areas,” Fisk said. “It’s not in charge of losing tax revenue. It’s a little strange for us to hear someone saying, ‘OK, our vision is to take tax revenue from you and we appreciate it if you let us do that.'”

Lowder, who also supported the abatement, noted Hancock County government’s share of income tax revenue is estimated to have decreased recently while McCordsville’s is estimated to have increased.

“We all want McCordsville to do well, we do, but right now they’re doing well, they’re growing, their finances are growing, and on the county’s end, our finances are not growing,” Lowder said.

Exeter Property Group would rather remain in the county anyway.

“Our inclination is to work with the county, and that’s been our approach since the beginning, and we promise to continue to do that, and would respectfully ask approval of our tax abatement as presented…” said Matt Price, a lawyer with Dentons law firm representing Exeter.

Mary Noe, a county council member who voted against Exeter’s abatement, said McCordsville taking on the development may have ultimately been the best option. She noted one of the motives for Aurora Way is to keep traffic from increased development away from residences along County Road 600N. She also pointed to the town’s more stringent development standards.

“It’s trying to look at that part of the county and say we’re going to work with whatever town is adjacent to them and create an area that is going to work with the people that live there every day, not just sitting here in this room today,” Noe said.

Exeter Property Group is also proposing a 523,260-square-foot building at the northeast corner of county roads 400W and 300N. The county council gave an initial approval on a tax phase-in for the development last month, but the property still needs to be rezoned before the project could commence. The Hancock County Plan Commission has yet to make a recommendation on that rezoning and the Hancock County Board of Commissioners has yet to authorize it. The county council wants to wait for the rezoning process to play out before considering a final vote on the tax break, and continued the matter to Nov. 10.

VanTrust Real Estate, based in Kansas City, Missouri, is looking at the northeast quadrant of county roads 700W and 400N for three buildings — about 904,000 square feet, 590,000 square feet and 300,000 square feet.

The breakdown of the county council’s 4-3 approval of a tax abatement for the project mirrored that of the Exeter vote, after unanimous approval in the first vote last month.

Both VanTrust’s and Exeter’s abatements are contingent upon the county entering into a development agreement with each firm. It’s part of a new process the county has started asking developers to pay money to the county for services like public safety and schools, which, along with the tax abatement schedule, will be negotiated.

In the future, county officials plan to have those negotiations finished before a final vote on an abatement.

Butrum, a county council member who voted against both abatements, said she didn’t feel comfortable supporting something without all of the terms yet determined.

“Going forward, I won’t be entertaining that unless it’s a really special, standout idea, which is not a speculative building,” Butrum said.

A final vote on an abatement for Cincinnati-based Al. Neyer’s proposed 263,498-square-foot building on the west side of County Road 700W between county roads 350N and 400N was also slated for the meeting, but was continued to Nov. 10 at the company’s request.