Another rooftop overlooks neighboring lots awaiting home construction in Fortville. The neighborhood off County Road 200N is part of a building boom in the area. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
Another rooftop overlooks neighboring lots awaiting home construction in Fortville. The neighborhood off County Road 200N is part of a building boom in the area. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
HANCOCK COUNTY — Revenue received by the county’s planning and building departments exceeded $1 million this year, reaching the seven-figure mark for the first time.

An official attributes that milestone to the many large commercial buildings planned throughout Hancock County. Other planning and building leaders across the county, along with those who build homes in the area, report good years as well.

Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, said the planning and building departments’ revenues come from sources like building permits, inspections, sign permits and fees petitioners pay for hearings before the plan commission and zoning appeals board.

The driving force behind this year’s revenue has been the slew of large buildings that have been announced, underway and completed. Amazon finished its 615,000-square foot fulfillment center earlier this month near County Roads 300N and 400W. Walmart has started moving dirt for a 2.2 million-square foot fulfillment center just south of McCordsville. Developers have been announcing plans for large, move-in-ready buildings in the western part of the county throughout 2020.

“These very large warehousing/distribution facilities account for most of that revenue,” Dale said.

He added it’s the most revenue the departments have ever received in a year by a wide margin. In 2019, revenues totaled about $690,000. The year before that, about $400,000.

The money goes to Hancock County’s general fund. Brad Armstrong, a county commissioner who serves on the plan commission and zoning appeals board, expects it will be a boost at a time when government revenue is expected to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By having the right tools in place and working hard during down times — working on infrastructure and having a business-friendly climate — now we’re able to reap those now and get rewards,” Armstrong said. “Those businesses are going to provide a lot of future income tax revenue and good jobs. I think it’s real gratifying to go from where we were at to having these kinds of milestones.”

Armstrong also said he’s not sure if the impacts to county coffers brought on by the pandemic will be as harmful as once thought.

“I don’t know if county government revenues will be down as bad as we initially feared, because a lot of people have been able to remain working,” he said of income tax revenue.

The county’s unemployment rate has been improving ever since jumping from 2.7% to 14.2% in April. It was 3.9% in November, representing more than 1,500 people looking for work. In November 2019, it was 2.5%.

Armstrong said he also expects property tax revenue to remain stable, as property values have been rising.

Fortville, which took over its own planning and building responsibilities from Hancock County starting in January 2020, has collected almost $74,000 in building permit revenue so far, said Adam Zaklikowski, the town’s planning and building director.

Zaklikowski said permits for single-family residential projects make up the bulk of that revenue. The town issued more than 90 single-family residential building permits so far this year. The county issued 72 in the town last year, 69 in 2018 and 58 in 2017.

It’s difficult to tell if or how much the pandemic has impacted that kind of development, Zaklikowski said.

“It would appear, based on the numbers that we’re seeing, that it’s still increasing,” he said. “So whether it would’ve increased more, we’ll never know, but it definitely hasn’t gone down, as proven by the numbers.”

Zaklikowski said he continues to hear from home builders that there’s still pent-up demand for new single-family homes in the area.

“And the Indianapolis metro area, as a region, still has not put out enough lots to meet that demand,” he said. “In my educated guess, I’d have to say it just has to do with the supply and demand. That’s a good problem to have. We certainly don’t want to have a glut of finished empty lots ready for construction.”

Zaklikowski also noted how the pandemic has affected certain industries — like hospitality and service — far more than others.

“What we’ve been experiencing is if you’re not directly in one of those industries, luckily and gratefully things are still moving forward,” he said. “If this was Las Vegas or Orlando — places that really depend on that type of sector of the economy — then I think things would be much different here. But our growth here in central Indiana, as you can tell, is always pretty steady; it doesn’t swing too far in one direction.”

Joan Fitzwater, Greenfield planning director, said earlier this month that the city’s planning and building department has issued 89 commercial permits so far this year and 271 one- and two-family residential permits. More than 250 single-family permits were issued through November, the most the city’s had since 2005.

Fitzwater attributed the housing increase to new job opportunities in Hancock County.

“We’re the last hole in the doughnut,” she said, referring to the counties that circle Marion County. “And the interest rates are so low, and we have a great location on I-70, and we’re so close to downtown Indianapolis that I think we’re just going to continue to see this demand for housing increase.”

Indianapolis-based Arbor Homes is currently building in Greenfield, McCordsville, Fortville and in the Mt. Vernon school district.

Ben Watkins, chief marketing officer for the company, told the Daily Reporter in an email that 2020 will be its best year. Sales were up 22% over 2019.

“Like many builders, those increases could have been more, but we were limited by lot inventory,” Watkins added.

He said several factors are driving new-home sales, including a lack of existing homes on the market.

“The pandemic has only increased an already-low inventory, driving more buyers to new-home construction,” he said.

The saving rate has actually increased in 2020, Watkins continued, making a down payment much easier.

“People weren’t traveling, and the initial stimulus package early in the pandemic was a big factor,” he added.

Watkins also said he feels a lot of people living in apartments started to see lifestyle benefits of owning a home during the pandemic, like having a private yard, home office, additional square footage and commute times becoming less of a factor.

He echoed Fitzwater’s comment about low mortgage rates as well.

Dave Sego, president of Greenfield-based Dave Sego Builders, said his company has been having a good year, too. He estimated it’s sold more lots in 2020 in the Stone Ridge neighborhood west of Greenfield than the previous two years combined. The company also completed a commercial project this year — Posh Salon’s new location at 124 W. Main St. in Greenfield.

“It’s been a good year on the development side and the building side,” Sego said. “It’s been a stellar year, really, for the whole industry.”

A factor that could be driving the success is that central Indiana has more affordable housing than other parts of the country, he continued.

“One thing this pandemic has shown is people are capable of working form home,” he said. “So there’s people moving from out of state and different cities coming to the Indianapolis area just because of the cost of living and because it’s a good place to raise a family.”

Ryan Crum, director of planning and building for McCordsville, said the town has issued more than 230 building permits so far this year.

Tonya Galbraith, the town’s manager, said at a joint meeting of McCordsville’s redevelopment commission and town council earlier this month that the town’s building permits so far this year have more than doubled last year’s total.

“Our growth, just this year, during a pandemic, has been out of this world,” she said.

Christine Owens, assistant town manager for Cumberland, reported that the town has issued more than 130 building permits so far this year, almost 100 of which are new dwelling units. The town issued a total of 67 permits in 2019 and 90 in 2018.

“This is a record year for the 12 years I’ve been here,” Owens told the Daily Reporter in an email.

© 2021 Daily Reporter