HANCOCK COUNTY — After months of delays and lack of consensus, county officials have finally approved a contentious proposal for a large warehouse in the western part of the county.

The project continues an eastward creep from the Mt. Comfort Corridor of plans for such developments, but leaders say they don’t want it advancing too much farther.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners this week unanimously approved Exeter Property Group’s request to rezone 40 acres at the northeast corner of County Roads 300N and 400W in Buck Creek Township from an agricultural designation to an industrial one. Exeter needed the change to pursue a planned $35 million, 523,000-square-foot warehouse/distribution building. An occupant has yet to be secured, but the developer expects interest to increase now that the project is moving forward.

The commissioners’ decision followed the Hancock County Area Plan Commission’s vote to forward Exeter’s request with no recommendation. The rezone request had been continued several times after first being introduced in August. First, more time was needed to consider certain aspects of the project. Then, there was a split vote that lacked a required majority.

Commissioners noted the site remains the only quadrant of the intersection not already with an industrial zoning designation. They also pointed to Exeter’s commitment to improve County Road 300N along the property boundary. The developer will improve County Road 400W as well if access to the site is created from the road. Exeter will exceed the county’s berming standards to screen the development as much as possible and will shield outdoor lighting.

A proposed economic development agreement with the firm projects the venture will bring in more than $1.5 million over the course of a 10-year tax abatement to be available for operational expenses for schools and public safety agencies.

Commissioner John Jessup said while he supports Exeter’s plan, similar developments shouldn’t extend beyond the next road to the east.

“My commitment would be there’d be no IBP (industrial business park zoning) east of 300W,” Jessup said. “…I’m willing to make that commitment — that logistics stops.”

Fellow commissioner Marc Huber feels similarly.

“If we do that, I agree, I think we need to say that 300 is it,” he said.

But Pat Sullivan, a resident who lives near the Exeter site, is skeptical.

“Five years from now, is it going to be 200W?” he said. “We keep pushing the goal line further and further.”

County officials received dozens of emails in opposition to Exeter’s proposal, and several people spoke out against it at public sessions. Their concerns included impacts to quality of life and doubts that roads in the area could handle the increased traffic.

“We weren’t really surprised by them,” said Joe Calderon, a lawyer with Barnes &Thornburg in Indianapolis representing Exeter. “We certainly understand the issues regarding concerns about infrastructure. We can’t solve all of those, but we can participate and share with our responsibility to help make those better not only today but moving forward into the future.”
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