HANCOCK COUNTY — Efforts to update a guide for helping shape the county’s future are nearing the home stretch.
The comprehensive plan for Hancock County outlines goals and aspirations for how the county will develop as far as aspects like housing, land use, transportation, recreation and infrastructure. An overhaul has been underway since last year to replace the current plan adopted in 2005 and updated in 2012.
One part of the process attracting attention is the development-heavy western part of the county. Residents of that area worry a current draft of the plan suggests more of what’s happening there will continue.
Work on updating the comprehensive plan kicked off in August 2021 and is anticipated to conclude this September. The county hired Vandewalle & Associates, with offices in Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio, to assist with developing the new plan.
The plan makes land use recommendations for the unincorporated parts of the county as well as the towns of Shirley and Spring Lake. A draft future land use map has been completed from the ongoing update. If adopted, the map wouldn’t establish zoning, nor would it prevent current uses from continuing.
A thoroughfare plan that addresses roads and transportation matters is also being developed through the comprehensive plan update, as well as an economic development strategy for the county.
Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission, feels a lot of public input has been gathered and expects more will continue to be.
“So far we’re confident that we’re developing a plan that takes into account the thoughts and concerns of a wide constituency,” Dale said.
As expected, he said, a lot of the focus has been west of State Road 9.
“That is generally anticipated as the growth area for Hancock County,” he said.
It contains the Mt. Comfort Corridor, which has drawn dozens of large speculative warehouses over the past several years. It also includes the towns of Cumberland, McCordsville and New Palestine, which are experiencing residential growth.
Dale said while the county’s current comprehensive plan anticipates growth in that area too, the update goes further.
“This plan will have a more finely grained depiction of where future growth should occur,” he said, adding especially in relation to the Mt. Comfort Corridor and Indianapolis Regional Airport.
Some of those depictions have some western county property owners feeling uneasy about the area’s future. Melissa Miller, who currently lives with her husband in New Palestine, bought land at CR 400N and 300W last year with plans to build a home, not thinking the warehouse developments would extend as far east as they have. She said they’ve been watching the comprehensive plan update process closely to see how officials will view the area in the future.
Miller said she’s pleased to see much of the area where she and her husband are considering building identified as a planned neighborhood in the draft future land use map. However, she noted a considerable stretch nearby suggests mixed-use, leaving her with concerns over what that could mean for existing homes in the area. She added she couldn’t get a good explanation on that topic when visiting the comprehensive plan’s open house at the Hancock County Public Library in Greenfield last week.
County officials have said they expect a new Interstate 70 interchange will be needed at CR 200W at some point. The draft comprehensive plan update addresses this as well, but also notes the state has yet to approve the interchange. The draft proposes diverting CR 200W traffic to CR 300W, which county engineer Gary Pool said would draw vehicles from Mohawk and the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation campus to the north. But Miller said the diversion would also bring traffic closer to the area she and her husband are eyeing for their new home, giving her pause as well.
“Worst of all, this comprehensive plan, no matter what it says in its final form, really means nothing in terms of any homeowner feeling like their property is ‘safe’ as we all know the power to approve or reject any land development proposal is in the hands of our elected representatives,” Miller told the Daily Reporter in an email, adding it makes her hesitate to want to continue to live in the county.
Lisa Bayne, who also lives on the county’s west side, said she doesn’t have confidence public feedback will be incorporated into the update after feeling like her pleas have fallen on deaf ears over the years for economic development to be respectfully incorporated into the area.
“There is nothing they can do in this area to enhance our quality of life,” Bayne said in an email.
Sandra Hudson, another western resident, said the recent open house for the comprehensive plan was well organized and provided much information.
“The draft land use maps pretty much confirmed the fears of Buck Creek residents in the western part of the county, as they promote further industrial expansion,” she said in an email.
Hudson added she was disheartened to read a passage in the draft addressing the Mt. Comfort region, which states it should prepare to transition away from lower-density residential and toward more intensive development.
When the new comprehensive plan is finished, the county plan commission will consider it at a public meeting and decide whether to send it to the county board of commissioners with a favorable, unfavorable or no recommendation; or send it back to the consulting firm for more work. When the plan comes before the board of commissioners, members can decide to adopt it via a resolution or send it back for revisions they’d like to see.
“The planning department and plan commission would like to ultimately present a plan to the board of county commissioners that is representative of the residents and business-owners here in Hancock County,” Dale said. “That’s our goal.”
And while not to the extent of the current overhaul, Dale continued, the plan should be reviewed regularly after that.
“Even though it becomes an adopted growth policy for the county, it’s certainly not written in stone, and in good practice we would be updating it perhaps every five or seven years,” he said.
Keep up with efforts to update Hancock County’s comprehensive plan and provide feedback at futurehancock.com.