HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials this week approved a tax break for a large speculative building and started the process for two more.
Agreements are also in the works that would bring in payments from the developers that officials want to make available for sources like schools and public safety.
Additionally, leaders learned two other developments for which they’ve already granted breaks are more than doubling in size.
Exeter Property Group is planning a building just over 500,000 square feet north of County Road 300N and east of County Road 400W. The proposed logistics building would be speculative, meaning without an occupant yet secured.
Matt Price, a lawyer with Dentons law firm representing Exeter, said the estimated $27.8 million project is anticipated to start construction no later than this September and be complete by the end of 2023.
The Hancock County Council cast a second and final vote of 4-3 approving a tax abatement on the property, with Bill Bolander, Jim Shelby, Kent Fisk and Robin Lowder voting in favor and Jeanine Gray, Mary Noe and Keely Butrum voting against.
The assessed value on which the building and other real property improvements will be taxed will be deducted by 100% the first year, 95% the second, 90% the third, 85% the fourth, 80% the fifth, 75% the sixth, 70% the seventh, 65% the eighth, 60% the ninth and 55% the tenth, after which the abatement would end.
The county council approved the abatement contingent upon the Hancock County Board of Commissioners’ approval of an economic development agreement with Exeter. A recent Daily Reporter article incorrectly reported that the council approves economic development agreements.
Price said the agreement calls for just over $1.4 million in economic development payments over the same 10 years as the tax abatement period.
John Jessup, president of the county commissioners, said he’s working on economic development agreements for nearly 30 of the buildings planned throughout the county. Under current estimates, they’re anticipated to generate a total of nearly $60 million over the lives of their agreements. Proposed uses for those funds include operational expenses for the county’s four school corporations; fire and ambulance service; additional sheriff’s deputies; and the county’s 911 department.
During a public hearing for Exeter’s tax abatement, Pat Sullivan, who lives near the project site, said he struggles with the concept of incentivizing development with tax breaks to attract logistics and warehousing to an area he feels already has plenty of those kinds of businesses. He said he’d rather see officials use incentives to draw other kinds of industries, like technology firms.
“I would like the county council to consider the fact that if we desire to incentivize this kind of development with abatements, I think we’ve been successful,” he said of large speculative buildings. “…[A]t what point is this number large enough?”
County council members also voted 6-1 in the first of two votes on tax abatements for Carmel-based Lauth Group, with all but Butrum voting in favor. The developer plans to add a 920,700-square foot building expandable to about 1.2 million square feet as well as a 463,800-square foot building to its business park along County Road 350N between County Roads 700W and 800W. Brady Jacoba, vice president of business development for Lauth Group, said while both projects are currently speculative, the firm hopes to land a technology company for the smaller property.
Noe said she thinks Lauth’s location is within the parameters of where the county wants to see commercial industrial properties.
“And the best use for the land that Lauth was proposing is commercial industrial, in my opinion,” she said.
She couldn’t say the same for Exeter’s project, however, adding she doesn’t support the booming commercial growth in the western part of the county bulging east beyond County Road 400W.
“There’s no commercial growth outside of 400 going east, and for that reason I’m not interested in any additional growth past that line,” she said.
Butrum said she did not support Exeter’s abatement because she wants to wait to see what the county’s ongoing comprehensive plan process gathers before considering more industrial uses that far east. While Lauth’s project is farther west and closer to the Mt. Comfort Corridor, she still had concerns.
“I’m also not interested currently in expanding the footprint of what already is building industrial until we’ve looked at the needs of police, fire and schools for the next five years, and looked at the potential funding of those expected needs and also talked to some other developers about what other potential lies out there in the forms of housing and commercial retail,” Butrum said.
The terms laying out how much of an abatement Lauth would get per year for the two buildings continue to be negotiated as a part of the company’s economic development agreement with the county. That agreement is anticipated to be completed ahead of the council’s second and final vote on the tax abatement next month, which will also include a public hearing.
The council also voted unanimously to amend already-approved tax abatement paperwork for two other of Lauth’s buildings planned for its business park. Two formerly 405,000-square foot buildings will now be nearly 1.1 million square feet and 930,000 square feet. The developer is expanding the buildings after acquiring more land in the area.
“Fortunately we’re in an environment where demand continues to drive the size of buildings, and so some of our buildings we already had abatement on have grown in size,” Jacoba said.