Planners support warehousing rezone, commissioners to consider approval

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Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group is asking Hancock County to rezone land at the northwest corner of I-70 and 300W that would pave the way for industrial development, like the 750,000-square foot building with 276,000-square foot expansion depicted in this site plan.

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HANCOCK COUNTY — A planning authority supports rezoning another large tract of land for another large warehousing operation in the western part of the county.

Officials say it will bring in much-needed funding for providing public services. But for opponents living near the site, the proposal piles onto their concerns over traffic, effects to roads and the continued transformation of a once rural area into an industrial one.

Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group is asking Hancock County leaders to rezone over 80 acres at the northwest corner of Interstate 70 and County Road 300W in Buck Creek Township from agricultural to industrial business park.

The firm wants to build a logistics facility or facilities on the site. The development is currently speculative, meaning without an occupant yet secured.

A plan filed with the county shows a building over 750,000 square feet expandable to another nearly 276,000 square feet.

The site is just east of property on which Ambrose Property Group has plans for three large speculative buildings. It’s also southeast of a business park the firm has developed that houses an Amazon fulfillment center, Progressive Logistics, U.S. AutoForce and another building slated to come online this summer.

The Hancock County Area Plan Commission voted 4-2 Tuesday night to send the rezone request to the Hancock County Board of Commissioners with a favorable recommendation. Bill Bolander, Bill Spalding, Michael Long and Renee Oldham voted in favor while Wendell Hester and Byron Holden voted against. A seventh seat on the plan commission has yet to be filled.

The county’s planning department supports the rezone as well.

Supporters of the proposal point to the economic development agreements the county has been negotiating with developers that outline tax breaks and other incentives but also payments to the county that can be used for operating costs for public safety and schools.

“Even with tax abatement, these projects in a short period of time provide a significant increased tax revenue to the county,” said Briane House, a lawyer with Greenfield-based Pritzke &Davis representing Ambrose Property Group. “And the benefit and utility of the EDAs (economic development agreements) is that the commissioners are able to split some of that tax revenue received into more focused uses for public safety and so on.”

Spalding, who’s also a county commissioner, noted one of the criticisms often directed toward the county’s booming development is that public safety agencies aren’t able to keep up.

“The economic development agreement that we’re looking at (with Ambrose Property Group) will provide our county with a little over $4 million in 10 years to pay for the needed police and fire that we can’t pay for right now,” Spalding said. “The problem that we have is tax caps have hamstrung where we really are and if we don’t grow, we’ll continue to not be able to provide for fire and public safety.”

Bolander, also a member of the Hancock County Council, which oversees the county’s finances, said the part of the county’s west side that’s receiving so much industrial development attention makes up about 2% of the county’s land, but 12% of its assessed value.

“It will help us budget things in the future,” Bolander said.

Ambrose Property Group agrees to several commitments if its project is able to move forward. Access to the site will be from County Roads 300N and 400W. Access to the site from County Road 300W, which has several homes in the area, would only be for emergency vehicles. The developer also agreed to higher berms and more landscaping than the county requires in the northeast and southeast parts of the site, which are near homes. Exterior lights on the property will aim down and minimize spillage onto neighboring properties, House said. Ambrose also moved plans for a cul-de-sac on a private road on the property farther from view of a nearby home.

Long and Oldham said they admired how the developer met with residents and made the commitments, noting it’s further than other developers have gone for projects in the area.

“In this case, it has some different merits that others haven’t that make sense because of the adjacency,” Oldham said. “At the same time, we can protect to some extent those that live on the residential pieces around that.”

But Holden said the site is too far from the Mt. Comfort Corridor where semitrailers traveling to and from the new warehouses have quick access to Interstate 70. Ambrose Property Group’s site, he said, would put too many trucks on too many roads that can’t handle the traffic as drivers seek a highway or interstate.

His concerns are not eased by the talks that have started between the county and state over an I-70 interchange at County Road 200W. The cart is already far ahead of the horse, he continued.

“I thought that would probably happen first,” Holden said of the interchange, “and then we would do the development.”

Residents living near the proposed development filled the meeting’s allotted time for public comments with their concerns.

Robin Lockart said she and her husband invested their savings into fixing the property they bought 15 years ago.

“Putting a factory across the street will decrease the value of our house majorly,” she said.

Jesse Mattick said he’s lived on his property for 85 years, over 60 of which with his wife.

“We must count on you to protect us and our home that Ambrose has absolutely no care about at all,” Mattick told plan commission members. “Buck Creek Township is covered with all these buildings.”

Gregory Russell urged officials to remember a visit last fall from Ball State University faculty, who said communities hoping to grow and improve should focus on attracting residents through offering quality-of-life improvements, not on attracting jobs.

“Let’s at least take some time and pause to look at what they have to say,” Russell said.

The date the commissioners will consider the rezone has yet to be determined. The commissioners post their meeting agendas on the county’s website, hancockcoingov.org, under the “Commissioners Meetings &Minutes” tab.