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Industrial park land sends towns into annexation battle: Avon, Plainfield both want 882-acre distribution site

February 20, 2006

A valuable piece of Hendricks County property slated for a mammoth warehouse and industrial park is pitting the neighboring towns of Avon and Plainfield against each other.

The two municipalities once were cooperating to annex the 882 acres together and share the tax dollars generated by the $700 million investment that could attract 6,000 jobs. They stopped negotiating last fall and now are employing separate tactics to claim the unincorporated land.

Locally based Browning Investments Inc. wants to build CentraLogistics Park on land running between County Road 100 South and County Road 200 South, and the proposed Ronald Reagan Parkway and County Road 900 East.

When finished, the decade-long project would boast 11 million to 15 million square feet of space, more than half the entire Plainfield industrial market.

By comparison, it dwarfs Browning's existing 5.5-million-square-foot AirTech park in Plainfield and is the largest project the developer has undertaken.

The development is critical in furthering the economic development of Hendricks County and its stature as a blossoming logistics hub. Whether recent actions stall or hinder the project remains unclear. But what is certain is that a game of oneupmanship has ensued.

Plainfield vs. Avon

The Plainfield Town Council is set to voluntarily annex the property at an April 13 public hearing. Not to be outdone, the Avon Town Council voted Feb. 9 to hold a public hearing April 10 to forcefully take the land through an involuntary annexation.

The Avon council took action to protect the interests of Washington Township, which falls in the greater Avon area and where the schools educate Avon students, said Avon Town Manager Tom Klein.

Upon approval of the involuntary annexation, Avon by law would have jurisdiction over the property, said Klein, who is hopeful Avon's decision will rekindle talks between the two towns.

"This is the only way we could get Browning and Plainfield back to the table," Klein said. "The last couple of years we have done a pretty good job of working together. That's why we thought we could do this."

After learning of Avon's decision, Plainfield Town Council President Robin Brandgard said the board will move forward with its annexation plan. Eleven of the 17 property owners have agreed to sell to Browning, which is enough to allow Plainfield to voluntarily annex the land.

"The key here is that we have the experience to go through the process and use the incentives," he said, "and get things approved in a relatively quick fashion."

Working together

A prior working relationship on AirTech between Browning and Plainfield helped lead the developer to ask the town to voluntarily annex the property.

But Plainfield and Avon have also worked together in the past. Plainfield supplies water to areas outside Avon and provides dispatching services for the Washington Township Fire Department and the Avon Police Department through its dispatching center.

In an April 2005 IBJ story about the proposed CentraLogistics park, Plainfield Town Manager Rich Carlucci said it was in the best interest of both communities to cooperate. But, by September, Klein said Plainfield officials began to ignore his meeting requests.

Browning brought the voluntary annexation before the Plainfield Town Council at a special meeting Jan. 30. Klein said he learned of Browning's decision through the news media.

Incentives important

Browning executives did not return phone calls to IBJ. But Tom Theobald, senior vice president and regional partner of the local office of Chicago-based developer Verus Partners, said Browning's request makes sense. Theobald spearheaded the CentraLogistics project for Browning before leaving in June.

"I think what happened is, Avon was unable to step up and provide the public assistance," he said, "and that's why [Plainfield] should be the beneficiary of the annexation."

The two-mile extension of the Ronald Reagan Parkway, improvements to County Road 200 South, and water and sewer infrastructure are estimated to cost $20 million. Plainfield has agreed to fund the improvements by issuing bonds through a tax-increment financing district. Although a 10-year tax abatement will be in place, it could take up to 12 years to complete construction.

Browning's plan is to purchase the land in stages, with the first acquisition to occur later this year. Construction and completion of the first building would follow in 2007.

Tim Shrout, president of locally based developer Cedar Run Ltd., who sits on Avon's comprehensive planning board, said he doesn't blame Browning for choosing to work with Plainfield.

"I had told [Avon officials] repeatedly that they needed to get aggressive and go after this area and annex it," Shrout said. "They said they were working with Plainfield and that [officials] wouldn't go behind their backs."

In hindsight, Klein said, he should have known something was amiss when Plainfield officials stopped returning his phone calls last fall.

Harold Gutzwiller, executive director of the Hendricks County Economic Development Corp., said it is critical that construction stays on schedule, regardless of who annexes the property.

"It's an important project for us, because it's the catalyst for future growth," Gutzwiller said. "The important thing for us is that the project moves forward and that it meets the timetable of the developer."

Lost revenue

The population of Washington Township has grown mainly through housing developments. The Avon Community School District, which is struggling to keep pace with the influx, would benefit from funds generated by the project, said Brandgard, Plainfield Town Council president.

The fire department that services the township, however, would lose out on revenue CentraLogistics generated, Klein said, if Plainfield annexes the property.

Although the project would be built on 882 acres, Avon wants to involuntarily annex more than 1,100 acres. About 300 acres of the property north of County Road 100 already falls under the jurisdiction of Avon.

Browning originally tried to buy that land, but owners were unwilling to sell, Brandgard said.

Some sources said Avon should continue to work with Plainfield because CentraLogistics could spawn further development on those 300 acres.

Avon's plan to involuntarily annex the acreage makes no mention of the Browning development, Klein said, because Browning has not submitted any plans to the town council.

Klein said Avon town officials agreed to cooperate with Plainfield because they did not want Browning to play one town against the other to receive the best deal.

"Plainfield should have said, 'No, we're working with Avon,'" Klein said. "Hopefully, our council action will open the door so everyone can sit down together."
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