By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
There has been a month of intense public discussion about Anderson Fast Forward, Mayor Kevin Smith’s proposal to annex nearly 21 square miles of new land into the city.
Thursday night, the decision of how, or whether, to move forward with that plan once again falls on the shoulders of nine members of the Anderson City Council.
Privately and publicly, council members have said they generally agree with the mayor’s goal of annexing land along Interstate 69 southwest of city limits for economic development and continued job creation.
But the shear size of the proposal makes most of them uneasy.
At the council’s February meeting, members tabled the proposed annexations while they sought answers to questions and input from their constituents and affected property owners.
City Councilman Ollie Dixon, D-District 4, said he’s talked with approximately 200 people about the proposed annexation.
“Everywhere I go people are expressing their concern, and I’m getting it both ways,” Dixon said. “Even from people in the inner city,” some of whom are worried that extending water and sewer service into currently unincorporated areas of the county will cause a loss of city revenue.
Dixon said he supports jobs growth and an expansion of commercial property and businesses on both sides of I-69 north of Anderson.
He and other members of the council declined to say exactly how they plan to vote.
“I’m going to wait right up until the final moment before making my decision,” Dixon said.
Joe Newman, D-District 6, said Wednesday he still had some questions about fire and sewer service and planned to attend a meeting of the council’s Democratic caucus in the evening.
“Other than that, I’m going in there with an open mind,” Newman said of Thursday night’s meeting.
Anthony “Ty” Bibbs, D-at large, said he is looking forward to hearing from both sides on the question.
Art Pepelea, R-District 5, figures public opinion on the annexation is running about 10-1 against. Pepelea said he generally supports annexation, “but not this particular annexation,” which he said has been handled unprofessionally.
The only member of the City Council who has consistently supported the plan from day one is Russ Willis, R-District 1.
“I think it is in the best interest of all the people in the community because of the job opportunities that will come from it,” Willis said. “I sincerely hope the vote will not come down to political considerations, but what’s in the best interests of the city.”
The goal of Anderson Fast Forward is to stabilize Anderson’s population and property tax base, and create an economic development corridor by capturing the remaining frontage along I-69 to the Madison/Hamilton County line.
The proposed northeast annexation would absorb about four square miles in Union and Richland townships, add 2,900 to Anderson’s population, 1,163 homes, five businesses and 25 miles of roads to the city.
The southwest annexation would extend Anderson’s city limits over to the Hamilton County line, positioning it to take advantage of commercial, industrial and, hopefully, residential growth moving north from Indianapolis, Fishers and Noblesville.
Since it was first unveiled last month, public opinion seems largely against either annexation. Property owners in both areas see Anderson Fast Forward as nothing more than a land grab that would come with costs and no benefits.
A group of Lapel area landowners last week petitioned the Lapel Town Council to annex a strip of land that would block Smith’s proposal. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for April 4.
Smith said on Tuesday he doesn’t have a good feel for how Thursday night’s meeting will go.
“It’s an important decision on their shoulders right now,” Smith said. “The future of Anderson is truly in the hands of nine council members.”
Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.