Construction continues on a speculative industrial building developed by The Opus Group east of County Road 700W north of Interstate 70 on the Mt. Comfort Corridor. County officials are considering guiding principles that will influence the future of development along the corridor. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
Construction continues on a speculative industrial building developed by The Opus Group east of County Road 700W north of Interstate 70 on the Mt. Comfort Corridor. County officials are considering guiding principles that will influence the future of development along the corridor. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
HANCOCK COUNTY — With the completion of the county’s updated comprehensive plan still a year away, officials are considering new guiding principles for development along the booming Mt. Comfort Corridor to consult in the interim.

Those considerations include proposed land-use maps and the creation of a special district protecting those uses while adding more oversight. County planning officials will hold a public hearing on the topics later this month before making a recommendation on them to the Hancock County Commissioners.

You can read the executive summary of the recommendations here.

The decision will culminate a yearlong effort involving a land-use plan, housing gap analysis, economic impact report and traffic analysis for the Mt. Comfort Corridor — spanning along the 14 miles of Mt. Comfort Road between the Hamilton County line in McCordsville on the north and West Stinemyer Road near New Palestine on the south.

The Coalition for Smart Growth, made up of the towns of Cumberland, McCordsville and New Palestine as well as NineStar Connect and Hancock Health, hired the Veridus Group, a civil engineering firm in Indianapolis, to manage the planning effort for the thousands of estimated jobs coming to the corridor.

An executive summary of the Veridus Group’s recommendations notes the planning area extends a mile east and west of Mt. Comfort Road. The summary includes maps splitting the area into six zones with proposed land uses based on stakeholder input, current existing conditions and best practices, according to the document. A website also gathered suggestions from the public earlier this summer.

The segments are not zoning districts, but land-use recommendations to be considered by the county and associated towns for future planning. Those recommendations should be incorporated into the county’s existing comprehensive plan and used as guidance for the new comprehensive plan that’s currently underway, the summary states.

State law requires county officials to consider the comprehensive plan’s recommendations when making zoning decisions, including those developers need for the many large warehousing and distribution buildings in the western part of the county.

The plan, which was drafted in 2005 before an in-house update in 2012, is often a point of contention at meetings during which the large projects are discussed. It’s not uncommon for developers to point to parts of the plan recommending the kind of zoning they need for their big buildings, while opposing landowners and skeptical decision-makers counter that sentiments have changed in the many years since the plan’s suggestions were first envisioned.

The latest recommendations seek to mitigate that, Jim Rawlinson, project manager with the Veridus Group, told Hancock County Plan Commission members at their recent meeting.

“It updates the land-use plan so that we’re not working with something from over a decade ago,” he said.

The Veridus Group also recommends the immediate creation of an overlay district specific to the corridor protecting the recommended uses and adding a layer of oversight to future development.

Overlay districts do not change properties’ zoning, but are often used by officials to provide extra protection to an area by being more restrictive and establishing additional review criteria.

Another recommendation is for municipalities along the corridor as well as the county to require development plan approval of non-single family residential projects and include one another on each others’ technical advisory committees for projects along the corridor.

The county plan commission is slated to hold a public hearing later this month on the suggestions and vote on a recommendation to the county commissioners regarding adopting the new land-use plan and creating the overlay district.

Byron Holden, a plan commission member, fears the direction hinders the ability to expand for smaller existing businesses along the corridor in favor of bigger players.

“There’s very little property in the county that a small business can buy and use,” Holden said. “… The people that existed here in the past, they’re just going to be drowned out. No one cares about them anymore.”

Just the opposite is true, according to Rawlinson.

“I think this would increase the availability for small businesses,” he said. “I think it’s really to set aside areas of density for commercial uses, for office uses, retail. It’s trying to add diversity to the economy of the corridor. … The goal is to set aside protections for the community.”

The summary of the Veridus Group’s recommendations for the Mt. Comfort Corridor also encourages officials to define industries they’d like to target; develop a matrix of incentives that reflect community priorities; work to retain and expand existing businesses; pursue post-secondary education partners; and resolve a housing gap by diversifying housing and/or types of jobs.
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