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Developers need Greenwood's OK for disputed land

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Now that the Indiana Supreme Court has settled the lengthy Greenwood-Bargersville annexation battle, developer Mike Duke is ready to build on a 60-acre tract in the heart of the disputed territory.

The court's Jan. 31 decision in favor of Greenwood means Duke will have to go to the city for approvals for his proposed retail center at the southeast corner of Stones Crossing Road and State Road 135. It will be the Bargersville developer's first major retail project in Greenwood's city limits in many years. His recent projects, which include 240 acres at state roads 37 and 44, are in the town of Bargersville, south of the unincorporated Center Grove area.

"I tried to stay out of it as best I could," Duke said of the annexation fight. "I would hope there would be nothing held against me because I live in Bargersville."

Duke has already had informal talks with city planners, and his project is in keeping with Greenwood's master plan for the area, Planning Director Ed Ferguson said. "Most of the properties that front on State Road 135 will already be zoned commercial when that annexation is finalized."

Greenwood has relatively forgiving building standards. The city requires more landscaping than it did a decade ago, but the latest change in the past year and a half was to allow digital billboards and signs, Ferguson said.

Stones Crossing Road is the next unclaimed parallel on SR 135 as commercial development pushes south from Greenwood. Neighborhoods are already established on the west side of SR 135, and a Marsh Supermarket sits on the southwest corner, across from where Duke plans to build his retail center. The major intersection to the north, Smith Valley Road, is heavily developed with a Target, Home Depot, Menards and Meijer.

Duke said his center will likely be anchored by a grocery store, but he declined to talk about other interested tenants. There's potential for more upscale retailers at Stones Crossing Road, which is closer to wealthy neighborhoods to the south. The median household income in a three-mile radius is close to $73,000.

Drive another two miles south to Whiteland Road, where Duke's commercial division, Welbourne Cos., has a small strip center, and the median household income jumps to about $82,000, according to Welbourne Cos. spec sheets.

The Supreme Court decision coincided with an improving economy. "We're starting to see things loosen up just a little bit," Duke said.

The Greenwood-Bargersville fight began when the town, which had already extended sewer service to the area, tried to annex land that was within three miles of the city's limits, a move that requires permission from the landowners. Bargersville argued that it already had proper authority to annex because homeowners and developers in the area had signed waivers along with their sewer-service agreements years earlier. Greenwood argued that didn't meet the standard of permission.

Bargersville initially won the court battle, but the decision was overturned on appeal.

Both sides had hoped the court decision would provide a definitive answer about what qualifies as landowner permission. With one of the five judges recusing himself, the decision was a tie and went to Greenwood by default.

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