Westfield on verge of development boom: At least four major projects in works in growing town

October 22, 2007

In the top drawer of an old desk in the basement of Westfield Town Hall, there is a small steno-style notebook filled with fraying, hand-written pages.

It's where town planners kept track of building permits for more than a decade starting in the 1960s. This was a tiny town then, where most people knew all their neighbors and permits were organized by last names.

Westfield is a lot different today.

New developments are appearing all over the growing town, which eventually will encompass all of Hamilton County's heavily-populated Washington Township. If growth continues at the present pace, the 19-square-mile town with 24,000 residents could balloon to 56 square miles and 110,000 people. More than 11,000 new homes are in the works for a town that now has about 7,000. And the residential rush has caught the attention of commercial developers-who are planning one of the most ambitious concentrations of mega-projects in central Indiana. Roughly 4 million square feet of new space is planned.

Among the latest proposals:

A 430,000-square-foot lifestyle mall dubbed Lantern Commons would be built on 60 acres northeast of U.S. 31 and 161st Street. The mall, proposed by Northbrook, Ill.-based Pine Tree Commercial Realty, would be about 100,000 square feet smaller than Clay Terrace in Carmel. It would take over what is now a heavily wooded parcel.

Plans for Eagletown of Westfield call for 1.7 million square feet of retail, restaurant, office and entertainment attractions north of State Road 32 and east of Eagletown Road. The 998-acre project, by Westfield-based Wilfong-Kreutz Land Development LLC, also would include as many as 3,000 homes, an elementary school and more than 200 acres of open space.

A $300 million mixed-use development called Aurora would cover 315 acres south of State Road 38 and east of U.S. 31. The project, by locally based CR White Aurora LLC, calls for a business park, office space, retail space, and hundreds of condos and apartments.

Oak Ridge, another project by Wilfong-Kreutz, would add another 115,000 square feet of office and retail space to 22 acres west of Oak Ridge Road, on both sides of State Road 32.

The impact of the new projects will be drastic, even if only half the proposals materialize.

The town's approach is to embrace the growth, processing applications as quickly as possible. The goal: one-month turnaround for commercial permits and 48 hours for residential permits, said Gregory Anderson, Westfield's community development director. He's been on the job about two months, fresh off a planning stint in one of Chicago's fastestgrowing suburbs.

"Our charge is, 'How do we do it bigger, better, faster?'" Anderson said. "Westfield's open for business, basically."

The planning system today looks a lot different than in the 1960s. These days, plans are tracked by computer, stacked in numerous file cabinets, and reviewed by a staff of 10 planners in various capacities. The department is in the process of hiring another planner and may soon hire more.

In March, the town adopted a comprehensive master plan that offers many possibilities, but also plenty of challenges, such as traffic and neighborhood compatibility.

"It's amazing to do land planning and community development at this scale," Anderson said.

The growth may be inevitable, but it still has to be managed well, said Michael Kobrowski, vice president of the Westfield-Washington Historical Society.

The society is working with the developers to save historic homes in the area and preserve some of Westfield's heritage. The town was founded in 1834 by Quakers from North Carolina. Many believe they settled in Westfield to establish a central route for the Underground Railroad.

Kobrowski moved here in 2000.

"Even in the seven years I've been here, it's amazing how things have changed," he said. "Obviously, when you have to build a new elementary school every year or every other year, the growth is going fast and you have to be careful."

The pace of development could pick up more steam once U.S. 31 is turned into a limited-access highway, a move that could drastically shorten the travel time between Westfield and Indianapolis.

Then again, growth has been a topic of conversation for years around here.

John C. "Jack" White, the town's building commissioner, said he heard "rumblings of wild growth" when he started as a Westfield planner in January 1978.

He said it's hard to tell whether all the new projects will get built, but the town already has changed a lot.

White pulled out the old steno notebook during an interview and pointed out the handwritten entries, without addresses, of the old building permits.

"It was tantamount to getting a library card," White said. "Then again, there also wasn't much going on."
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