This map shows parcels that are included in the Franklin buffer zone that could soon be returned to Johnson County for planning zoning jurisdiction.

Map provided by Johnson County Planning Department

The Franklin buffer zone has been in place since 1965, but city and county officials now agree it is no longer needed.

There were once buffer zones around Bargersville, Greenwood, Franklin and Edinburgh, but over the years Bargersville and Greenwood dropped their buffer zones. Franklin and Edinburgh still have buffer zones, but after Jan. 1, Edinburgh’s will likely be the last buffer zone standing.

Legally called extraterritorial zoning jurisdictions, buffer zones were created to give the cities and towns jurisdiction over how the land near their boundaries is developed. With buffer zones, a city or town gets a say in planning and building processes, while the county remains on the hook for providing services.

For example, a landowner in the buffer zone has to build their home to Franklin’s building standards while they receive services like police protection and road maintenance from Johnson County. They don’t get the benefits of living in Franklin though, including tying onto city utilities and voting for mayor.

Daily Journal and Franklin Evening Star stories from the 1960s show the buffer zones were tough to iron out and there was disagreement over how much land should be included. Critics at the time said buffer zones are just precursors to annexation, while proponents argued they were needed for “orderly growth.”

Buffer zones were created in a very different time for municipal planning, before powers to annex land without the approval of the majority of landowners were severely limited in 2015. Back then, cities and towns needed that extra layer of protection to make sure the land they are eyeing for development stays available, said Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett.

Per a 2019 state law, buffer zones can be taken back without a city’s permission, but local officials felt it was important to be on the same page before taking this step, said Lynn Gray, Franklin city attorney.

Ending the buffer zone

The conversation about ending the Franklin buffer zone started about five years ago. Barnett and County Commissioner Brian Baird have talked about it over the years, and now they both agree it is time for the buffer zone to end.

Both say the move will streamline the planning and building process for their respective planning staff and will make things easier for residents of the buffer zone.

There is confusion among some residents of the buffer zone when they are asked to take their building project to the city of Franklin, Barnett said. Some residents don’t know they live in the buffer zone until they need a permit to build something.

With over 1,500 acres annexed into the city in the last several years for planned logistics parks, Barnett said most of the acreage the city was eyeing is already locked in. The buffer zone has served its purpose for the city and is no longer needed, he said.

Franklin isn’t done growing, but the buffer zone isn’t a factor in future growth. Further development will happen as projects are proposed and when landowners in the buffer zone are ready to sell, Barnett said.

“There’s no advantage to it (for the city). There is a disadvantage to the people who live out there,” Barnett said.

Buffer zones first became an issue for Baird when he spoke to county employees who live there and realized the implications of the county offering services to residents while the city had control over land use, he said.

With the city and county working together better than in the past, even reaching a compromise for the once-contentious Interstate 65 TIF area, this is a good move for both, Baird said.

“A lot of things have changed to where these (buffer zones) are now obsolete,” Baird said.

The process to remove the buffer zone starts next at 6 p.m. Monday at the next Johnson County Plan Commission meeting. The commission will hold a public hearing on an amendment to the county’s zoning map that would bring jurisdiction of the buffer zone back to the county.

Residents can give input on buffer zone changes verbally at the meeting or in writing. More information on the changes can be viewed at the county’s planning and zoning office in the West Annex, 86 W. Court St., Franklin, or online at

Franklin’s plan commission will also need to amend zoning maps to reflect the buffer zone’s end, Gray said.

After the new maps are approved by both plan commissions the Franklin Common Council and the Johnson County Commissioners will also have to approve them.

Edinburgh’s buffer zone to stay

While Franklin officials are ready to let it go, Edinburgh officials still see a need to maintain control over at least one of the town’s buffer zones. The town is part of three counties and has buffer zones in place for both Johnson and Bartholomew counties, but not for Shelby County.

While there are no current plans to eliminate it, the Bartholomew County buffer zone isn’t needed as much today because the town doesn’t plan to extend utilities to service that area, said Wade Watson, the town’s planning director and interim town manager.

However, the Johnson County buffer zone is an important part of Edinburgh’s hoped-for growth. The area is being hoped to be developed with workforce housing and additional commercial spaces along U.S. 31, Watson said.

While Franklin’s growth is in a good spot to surrender the buffer zone, Edinburgh isn’t in that position yet. Surrendering control could mean the town missing out on the housing growth local companies and the school district needs, he said.

“One of the things that makes Edinburgh different is that we have not expanded significantly in the last 25 years,” Watson said. “We are pretty much landlocked and there is not much space for us to expand in our annexed area. So it makes sense for us to preserve those land uses.”

The population of Edinburgh has shrunk in past decades, but jobs continue to grow in the town’s industrial park. The missing piece is housing that is priced for Edinburgh workers who currently live elsewhere, Watson said.

The only neighborhood where new construction is happening is Timbergate, a community on Timbergate Golf Course with homes that are more geared to people with higher incomes and empty nesters.

Watson and Baird haven’t talked recently about removing the Edinburgh buffer zone, they said.