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Whiteland seeking to lure businesses to new area

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Whiteland has grown in area by about a third in the past six months and now is working to attract new businesses and development to the newly added land.

The town annexed 700 acres in July and has since formed a five-member redevelopment commission and is starting the process of creating a special taxing district that would set aside property tax dollars for future economic development.

Once in place, Whiteland’s first tax-increment financing district would set aside property taxes collected from new development in the annexation area. That money would go toward projects to attract development, such as road and infrastructure improvements, instead of going to fund local services such as town government, libraries and schools.

The annexed area extends east from Graham Road across Interstate 65 to County Road 350E and extends about a half-mile south of Whiteland Road. The area also includes a triangular piece of ground north of Tracy Road. About 150 acres of residential land is included, but some homes along Whiteland Road were omitted because the houses require more services than open fields. Whiteland might decide to annex the homes in the future.

Whiteland formed the redevelopment commission and plans to create the special taxing district in order to pay for improvements in the annexed area that could help attract businesses and industries, town manager Dennis Capozzi said.

Tax-increment financing districts also are used in Franklin and Greenwood and have collected millions of dollars. The money has helped pay for infrastructure improvements and other projects, such as purchasing police cars and setting up a nonprofit development organization in Franklin.

The Whiteland redevelopment commission, which met for the first time this month, plans to establish the tax district covering all of the land recently added. The process is expected to take about one year to complete. The hope is that creating a special taxing district will help attract new businesses because money would be collected to pay for future infrastructure improvements, Whiteland planning and zoning director Nathan Bilger said.

“We’d like to get industry in there obviously for the tax base and for employment. I’m wanting the town to move forward. I want some economic development,” said Scot Ford, a redevelopment commission member who also served for 12 years on the planning commission and board of zoning appeals. Ford is joined by town council members Ed Tichenor and Kent Beeson and town residents Katy Cavaleri and Charles Howard.

The new special taxing district won’t generate any tax money until new businesses come to the annexed area. Interest in the area has been low. The town has received a few calls, but no proposals have developed, Capozzi said.

“We’ve put some feelers out, and we’ve got one that (the area) is in their database. I wish I could say I had a million-dollar development,” he said.

Two features in the annexed area could help attract business — the I-65 exit, which could bring in business that is interstate-focused, and the railroad access north of Tracy Road, which could benefit certain industries, Bilger said.

Town officials plan to wait and see what kind of interest developers and businesses have in the property, and Capozzi said the new area could attract industry or business parks.

No specific plans for the area have been set and instead will be determined as prospective companies approach the town. The land is zoned for agriculture, with some industrial land near the interstate, and the town would rezone the land as needed once development begins, Bilger said.

The town will post information about the newly annexed area on the town website, and officials are working with the Johnson County Development Corp. to help promote the land.

“We are looking to do more active recruitment, at least putting the information on our website. We are working with (the development corporation); they’re kind of our leading edge. We’ve expressed what we want and what we have, and if they have someone coming in they know how to direct them to us,” Bilger said.

The process to create a tax-increment financing district could be done by the end of the year, but that work could go more quickly if an interested developer comes forward, Bilger said.

The redevelopment commission will have to create an economic development plan and define the area for the special taxing district. The plans will need to be approved by the Whiteland Planning Commission and town council, and the town will need to have a public hearing before the district is created.

Bilger said the town might hire someone to help write the economic development plan, and officials are deciding how much detail they would like in the plan and will attempt to apply for a grant to pay for the process.

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