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Judge orders sale of property at U.S. 31, Whiteland Road

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A long-shuttered building at a busy Whiteland intersection will be put up for sale so a new business can move in.

A judge has ordered that the building and property at the northwest corner of U.S. 31 and Whiteland Road must be sold. Part-owner Wabash College had sued to force a sale and got the ruling it wanted last week after a trial in which the other co-owner didn’t show up.

The court-ordered sale should be a major benefit for the town of Whiteland, where residents have been concerned for years about the appearance of the blighted building, said attorney Lee Robbins, who represented the college

“This will open it up for redevelopment,” Robbins said. “From Whiteland’s standpoint, they want something done and should be happy about it. They should be pleased with the result because this sort of frees the property.”

The vacant building and 1.87-acre property are owned by Wabash College and Carole Buck. Mr. D’s supermarket once rented the building but moved out in 2002. The 22,000-square-foot building at 10 U.S. 31 North has remained empty since then.

Buck had co-owned the property with her brother, but he donated his half to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, which wanted to sell the property, Robbins said.

Wabash College first attempted to sell its half to Buck but got no response, and so asked a court to divide it after getting stuck with about $52,000 in unpaid tax and utility bills, Robbins said. Dividing the property required selling it and splitting the proceeds, he said.

“A bean field lends itself to being divided into two parcels,” he said. “But you can’t chop this property up without undermining the value, so the judge ordered that it be sold so the money could be divided.”

Buck did not contest the lawsuit in court. Neither she nor any

attorney representing her showed up for a trial in Johnson County Superior Court I, Robbins said.

Buck could not be reached for comment.

She and Wabash College each will get about half of the sales price under the court order, and the college will get an additional $26,000 as reimbursement for back taxes and other expenses.

The property and building are assessed at $643,800 for tax purposes. The sale price must be at least two-thirds of the appraised value.

A special judge appointed Franklin attorney Steve Huddleston to arrange for a sale of the property. Huddleston said his goal is to have an auction to sell the property by the end of the year.

Huddleston said he expected strong interest since it’s at a highly trafficked intersection and across from thriving businesses.

The building has been vacant for about a decade, and town officials call it an eyesore. The canopy is torn, and weeds fill the parking lot.

Wild ivy crawls up the side of the boarded-up building. A rusting metal frame is all that’s left of the sign out front.

Town residents should be excited by the sale, since they’ve frequently raised concerns about the building sitting empty, town manager Dennis Capozzi said. The property is at a highly visible spot at the town’s busiest intersection.

”Hopefully, it’ll open it up to some development that will be pleasing to the residents,” he said. “It’s a prime location, and we’d like to see someone do something with it.”

Special judge Marla Clark found that the highest use of the property would be retail, possibly a pharmacy or convenience store.

She ruled that it must be sold since cutting it in half would be impractical and greatly reduce the value.

Residents also have expressed wishes that another grocery store move in so residents don’t have to leave town to buy milk or eggs, but Capozzi said that was unlikely since the 60-year-old building is too small to house a modern supermarket.

Capozzi said he’s confident a new owner would redevelop the property, since there would be no other reason to buy it. He said the town government would pursue nuisance citations if a new owner decided to leave the building sitting vacant for any prolonged length of a time.

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