Small victory: Mohr withdraws 154 acres from Whiteland Logistics Park plan

Neighbors to the future Whiteland Logistics Park were shocked Wednesday when Dallas, Texas-based developer Mohr Capital withdrew its proposal to rezone the most controversial part of the project.

The Whiteland Town Council was poised to approve rezoning the 154.5-acre property owned by Bright Farms, but Mohr’s attorney for the project, Matt Price, announced the developer was hitting pause — for now — on that part of the project.

“There were concerns about … that maybe being too much too fast. And while we felt like it certainly made for a robust logistics park, we discussed it internally with staff, and tonight we request that the petition for Bright Farms be withdrawn. We request that you not take any final action,” Price said during the meeting.

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“Our plans are to go forward with the remainder of the park. We anticipate (being) back before you at a later time. You will have the benefit of hindsight working with Mohr and we can make an even better case for ourselves at that time.”

There were audible gasps to Price’s statements. Among those surprised was Todd Hendrickson, one of three neighbors whose home faces the Bright Farms property.

“I’m shocked,” Hendrickson said. “I’m shocked they withdrew it because it was go, go, go all this time. Now all of a sudden they got the public input and concerns and they, for whatever reason, withdrew.”

Just before the Bright Farms withdrawal, the council voted 4-1 to annex and rezone a 184-acre property owned jointly by Zella Haveman, Eighth Generation and O’Brien Properties. As with the council’s first vote on the proposal Sept. 16, council member Laura Fleury was the lone nay vote.

This 184-acre property is north and east of Mohr’s first phase of the development, a 996,000-square-foot warehouse under construction for Cooper Tire. The Cooper warehouse is moving to the larger building in Whiteland from its current location in Franklin to expand its presence in Johnson County.

The project was expected to span about 475 acres total, west of Interstate 65 and north of Whiteland Road, and cost $325 million. The land required for the development is all under contract.

With the smaller footprint, Mohr’s project will now stretch from Tracy Road to the north, Whiteland Road to the south, Interstate 65 to the east and County Road 225 East to the west. The area is currently farmland, with a few residential properties, but the request would rezone the area to I-1, light industrial.

Four buildings ranging from 800,000 square feet to 330,720 square feet for a total of 2.3 million square feet. Three of the buildings are expandable up to an additional 787,950 square feet, for a total of more than 3 million square feet, according to a new site plan.

The project will include road improvements to County Road 225 West and construction of a modified connector road between Graham Road and County Road 225 West, the site plan shows.

Gary Horn, Mohr’s chief investment officer, said the Bright Farms part of the project is not dead, it has just been delayed out of respect for neighbors’ concerns.

Horn expects to resubmit the Bright Farms rezoning proposal again in about four years, after the buildings in the modified plan are constructed. Though the timeline will be market-dependent, he hopes to see at least one building a year constructed and filled, he said.

The new site plan no longer shows the multi-building hotel and retail development. Instead, there is a 29.7-acre wetland area outside the rezoning area that is planned to be donated to the town as a park, Horn said. The wetland is a wooded area behind a line of existing homes next to the Cooper Tire building on Whiteland Road

The ordinance for the 184-acre annexation was also updated to reflect five commitments Mohr has added since the first approval.

Two of the commitments are for lighting. One limits the height of lighting fixtures attached to the building and freestanding light poles on the property to 30 feet. The second requires that lights closest to residences have a shield or be pointed downward.

The third and fourth commitments say the developer will dedicate right of way for roads within the development and future roadways, and the developer will improve roadways at the same time the development is being built.

Lastly, the developer promises to pay for a traffic study to be completed if the town requests it.

The commitments stem from public meetings about the development and private meetings with neighbors, said Norm Gabehart, Whiteland town manager.

Mary Atkins, who lives across the street from the development on Tracy Road, was glad to know the developer and town heard their pleas.

“The town has been great. I’ve been here twice to talk to them and I submitted a letter,” Atkins said. “I felt that they listened and actually added the commitments.”

Atkins and others were concerned Bright Farms was being committed for industrial development too fast, given that the town’s comprehensive plan slated the property for long-term residential, she said.

“The other part was a little more in line with the comprehensive plan,” Atkins said. “We kept trying to say that was planned for long-term residential, so for them to go from residential to industrial was too much, too extreme.”

Neighbors such as Hendrickson are glad the development has shrunk — for now — but they remain realistic about the situation, he said.

“(Bright Farms) is in my front yard. I’d be looking at it over a 12-foot mound and probably the glow of lighting,” Hendrickson said. “I’m happy they withdrew, at least for the year. But they’ll come back with some fancy plan and we will go through all of this again.”