Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rural landowners fighting town that says it needs to annex land for projected population growth

Rural landowners in a central Indiana township along I-65 are in a battle with the rural town of Whitestown that wants to expand its southern boundary "by annexing about 621 acres of undeveloped Perry Township land," Kristine Guerrara reports for The Indianapolis Star. "Within that area are several single-family homes, an old cemetery, a restored red-brick building that was a school in the 1800s and acres of farmland."

"The dispute between rural landowners and Whitestown reflects a long-standing debate in which finding the balance between a municipality's need for growth, both in area and tax base, and property owners' desire to choose the government to which they pay taxes is nearly impossible," Guerrara writes. "Indiana municipalities can adopt ordinances to annex adjacent territories. In the past, annexations turned into court battles if 65 percent of landowners opposed the annexation. But under a new law that took effect in July, an annexation is automatically void if the same portion of landowners oppose it. That law, however, does not apply to Perry Township landowners, all of whom oppose the annexation, because the litigation began long before the law took effect."

In March 2014, a trial court judge "ruled in favor of the landowners and blocked Whitestown's annexation plan," Guerrara writes. "The landowners, however, lost in the Indiana Court of Appeals, which ruled that Whitestown could move on with its plan to expand its territory for future development. The landowners are now asking for a rehearing before the appeals court." (Star graphic)
Perry Township has a population of about 1,000, many of them retirees, and most have lived in the area their whole lives, Guerrara writes. Sam Baldwin, who has lived in Perry Township for 48 years, told Guerrara, "It's just that we would like to be the way we are. We moved out in the country to stay country, and we all know that you have to have progress, but when it's forced on you, I don't call that progress."

Whitestown officials say they need to annex more territory because of growth, Guerrara writes. The town's population has increased from 450 in 2000 to nearly 5,000 in 2014, with projections calling for the population to reach 14,000 in 2022 and 23,000 in 2032.

"According to the appellate court ruling in favor of Whitestown, the town's rapid growth creates possibilities for future developments. The vast majority of the land within Whitestown's boundaries is either already developed, under development or planned for development, court records say," Guerrara writes. "Whitestown also argues that the law doesn't require municipalities to identify a specific project for the undeveloped land it seeks to annex. They're required to show only that they can develop the land in the reasonably foreseeable future." (Read more)

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