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Unused acreage a patchwork across county

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For 10 years, a piece of land near soccer fields in New Whiteland has sat empty.

Town officials considered building a new town hall on the property on Tracy Road but couldn’t afford the building. They considered a new street department garage for the site, too, but it was too far away from the wastewater plant.

So for a decade, the town has owned 1.5-acre piece of land and mowed it. If they can’t come up with anything to use it for, town officials may just give it back to Clark-Pleasant schools, clerk-treasurer Maribeth Alspach said.

Schools, cities, towns and fire departments face the question each year of whether to continue owning unused land, or sell it. If governments sell property, the acreage goes back on the property tax rolls, and taxpayers no longer have to pay to maintain or mow the property.

For years, school districts went on land hunts and bought large swaths of ground when enrollment was growing and new schools were needed. Those sites could become a new school in the future if more schools are needed, but no projects are planned at this time.

Greenwood Community School Corp. owns about 30 acres next to its bus barn off Averritt Road and intends to keep it for the foreseeable future, director of fiscal services Todd Pritchett said. Greenwood doesn’t have too many places where you can find that much unused ground, so it’s better to keep what the district has instead of trying to buy land if property is ever needed, he said.

Other governments are starting to jettison unneeded land instead of paying to mow the grass each year and not having the property generate tax dollars. Center Grove Community School Corp. is selling 12 acres on Olive Branch Road that is too small for a new school or bus barn and is not located where the population is growing further south.

Franklin Community Schools originally planned to build its new high school on Upper Shelbyville Road, but changed plans and built the school on the north side of the city. The school district sold the land to a subdivision developer, who is now building a 150-home neighborhood on that property.

Plans change, which sometimes means land isn’t needed. Bargersville Fire Protection District is still trying to sell land near the Somerset subdivision in the Center Grove area.

The district had once planned to build a third fire station, but fire district leaders changed; Greenwood annexed the nearby area; and fire officials decided to instead build a new headquarters outside of the town, Fire Chief Jason Ramey said. Since taxpayers paid back a loan to buy the land, the money from the land sale when it sells will be put into savings for new equipment or vehicles, Ramey said.

“We would love to not own it anymore and have the money put into other purchases,” Ramey said.

Cities and towns typically don’t buy land unless they are going to need it within a year or two, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Franklin purchased a former Village Pantry on Main Street, because it needs to knock the building down to make room for a roundabout. Greenwood owns

10 acres of land on Worthsville Road, but it’s being turned into a stormwater pond. Edinburgh purchased a long-vacant grain elevator on State Road 252 because it’s being demolished to make an intersection easier to see around.

Property that isn’t needed, such as a vacant house the county owns at the intersection of Smith Valley and Peterman roads, gets torn down. Construction crews used it as a field office during projects in the area, but the county has maintained it for years while it’s been vacant. The taxpayers will still own the land after it’s torn down, just in case any intersection improvements are needed in the future, but the county won’t have to pay to maintain the home anymore.

When the city owns property it doesn’t need, the goal is to either sell it to a private owner or give it to another group that can use it. The Franklin Redevelopment Commission sold the former G.C. Murphy building downtown to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks’ Franklin lodge and is currently trying to sell the former city hall on Madison Street, commission president Bob Heuchan said. Not only will the property start generating taxes again, but it will have a use instead of wearing down, he said.

“It’s going to attract more business to the other buildings, and if not increase values, it’s at least going to keep them from deteriorating. You can drive through a lot of towns you can see where that has happened,” Heuchan said.

If land is not needed or can’t be used, the school districts will also eventually look to sell.

Franklin schools decided to sell the land at Eastview Drive and Upper Shelbyville Road after plans changed for the high school, Superintendent David Clendening said. The property was purchased in the 1990s, but the school district sold it last year to a subdivision developer.

Now instead of being leased to a farmer earning the school district a few thousand dollars per year, the planned subdivision could generate more than $250,000 in new taxes for the city and schools once it’s fully built. The money from the sale has also been put into savings. The school district doesn’t anticipate needing any new land, but that money is available if the need ever arises, Clendening said.

Center Grove is accepting offers in April on the 12 acres it can’t use on Olive Branch Road. The district has owned that land for decades and recently decided it wasn’t needed.

“It doesn’t make sense for the corporation to continue to own the property if it doesn’t fit into our future plans,” Superintendent Rich Arkanoff said in a news release.

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