Local officials discuss projects, economic development at chamber luncheon

Officials from nearly every local community discussed current projects and economic development during a chamber luncheon Thursday in Bargersville.

Elected officials and representatives from Bargersville, Edinburgh, Franklin, Greenwood, New Whiteland, Whiteland and Johnson County, were the featured panelists at Aspire Johnson County’s latest Legislation Matters luncheon at The Sycamore at Mallow Run in Bargersville.

Officials discussed their priorities and recent developments in the communities in a Q&A format, with community updates taking place first.

Community updates

Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers discussed the new Greenwood Fieldhouse, which opened earlier this year, along with The Madison development. He also discussed the Main and Madison Streetscape project, which is close to completion, and the Worthsville Road Sports Park, which is under construction.

In Franklin, the city is currently working to expand its sewer system to increase capacity in areas for development on both the east side and west side. Several housing subdivisions are undergoing development or approval, including new apartments on King Street and Upper Shelbyville Road, said Krista Linke, Franklin’s community development director

Carmen Parker, Whiteland’s community development director, announced that Langham Logistics is moving into half of the Hines industrial building, located south of Whiteland Road on Warrior Trail.

Carissa Comstock, Bargersville’s community development coordinator, highlighted development taking place downtown, including public-private investments. Specific details on several projects weren’t released, though things are coming together, she said.

“We’re working on a number of projects that will be coming into shape soon, hopefully,” Comstock said.

She mentioned the town’s park and trail plans, including the recent groundbreaking for Kephart Park and the trail project underway to connect the park to downtown, Comstock said.

New Whiteland Clerk-Treasurer Angela DeVoss said the town recently completed upgrades to Tot Park, including new playground equipment and a trail. She also mentioned the completion of 100 new homes in the Grassy Manor subdivision on County Road 75 West.

Other projects include upgrading the town’s wastewater treatment plant to increase capacity and account for future growth, along with working with a developer on a possible multiple-unit assisted living center between U.S. 31 and the Country Gate subdivision.

Wade Watson, the interim town manager for Edinburgh, told business leaders that the town is building a new fire station near its industrial park, along with upgrading street lights throughout the town. The town is also seeing a resurgence of residential development with Timbergate, a housing development adding homes near the golf course of the same name.

“For the first time in a number of decades, we’re seeing a resurgence of residential development,” Watson said.

Economic development

After the community updates, officials discussed future economic development in the county. Interstate 69 will be a big driver of future development, and county officials are working on the zoning to get that set up, said Kevin Walls, Johnson County commissioner.

“We’re really looking (toward) agribusiness,” he said. “That type of business on the westside has a very strong logistic presence over there, and I’d like to see that type of development.”

On the east side of the county, there is the county’s Interstate 65 Tax Incremental Financing District. Walls said it is going to take time for that area to develop, and officials are working to add infrastructure in the area.

In Bargersville, town officials are looking for mixed-used, commercial and residential development. The town’s redevelopment commission recently purchased property at the intersection of State Road 135 and State Road 144 and is accepting proposals for redevelopment, Comstock said.

“We have a (request for proposals) out right now to try to bring in an offer to make sure that that is an attractive gateway to our downtown,” she said.

In Whiteland, officials are focusing on commercial retail. While the town has had significant industrial and residential growth in the last few years, there is a need for more commercial developments, such as Chick-fil-A and Texas Roadhouse, Parker said.

Parker has started conversations already about what the town needs to do, and how many people they need, to be able to attract these developments. The town has already had developers express interest, such as the proposed Patch mixed-use development, which will contain retail, commercial and industrial space, she said.

“So (we’re) really hoping that that developer, which is Patch Development, can kind of start that the catalyst of the commercial retail ability,” Parker said.

Farther north in Greenwood, the city is maxed out of space for larger distribution warehouses, so officials have focused on getting companies to move into smaller industrial buildings. For retail space, officials are looking to put more higher-end restaurants in Old Town, adding to the small businesses in the area, Myers said.

Consolidation of government services

Officials also discussed the usefulness of consolidating government services and government units. Moderator Jean Renk, manager of government and community relations for Duke Energy, asked officials what they thought about the idea of Bargersville and the Center Grove area merging into a government unit.

Comstock said to her knowledge, there are no plans for Bargersville and Center Grove to consolidate. She is sure the town council would continue to evaluate the situation and make a decision that is best for everyone.

In the past, there was a proposal to try to consolidate the Center Grove area with Greenwood, and it failed “miserably,” Myers said. In terms of other local government units, like fire departments and townships, he is supportive of the idea of consolidation. Franklin, Union and Needham townships merged, and merging townships is the easiest place to start for consolidation, he said.

The Center Grove Emergency Operations Center is a good example of the consolidation of services. The center houses both the Bargersville and White River Township fire departments, along with Center Grove Police and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Walls said.

Walls has also been actively pursuing the merger of two of the county’s largest fire departments: Bargersville and White River. This is an overwhelming task, and officials are taking their time to investigate this option, he said.

“You’ve got to start someplace and I think it’s gonna be a positive,” Walls said.

Officials detail challenges, concerns

One of the last questions asked by Renk focused on what concerns and challenges keep officials up at night. For Watson, Edinburgh’s challenges include escalating costs and retaining town employees. He said that being competitive in the job market and keeping the town’s services up to date are also challenges.

Both Comstock and Parker said that keeping up with their town’s growth is also a challenge. This includes both keeping up with the demands of residents and making sure utilities work as planned, they said.

For Walls, one of the biggest challenges is addressing mental health. Officials have partnered with Johnson Memorial Hospital in an effort that is not yet able to be announced. This news will be positive though, and will benefit the county’s residents, he said.

While Linke could not answer for the city of Franklin, a frustration of hers is the lack of understanding of why projects are happening or what is going on behind the scenes. The general public often hears bits and pieces on social media, and they often comment on things without having the full picture, she said.

“There’s a lot of complaining that all of us have to deal with on a regular basis,” Linke said. ” … You may try not to take things personally, but it’s hard not to. I think everyone here wants the best for their community and sometimes, that wasn’t the opinion of everyone in your community.”

Comstock, Myers and Parker agreed with Linke about social media. Parker said she’s started to have residents contact her directly about what’s happening in Whiteland because people want to know the actual truth instead of perceptions said by others on social media. She also encourages them to let their friends and relatives know they can contact the town as well.

Myers said he once answered a social media comment regarding State Road 135, and how it wasn’t cleared after a snowfall event. He replied, saying it was the state’s jurisdiction, not Greenwood’s, and said it would be considered trespassing for the city to plow it.

People on social media commented, saying he was lying, he said. He hopes people will see through the misinformation and see that officials are trying to do the best they can.