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Zionsville parcels may lure Michigan Road development projects

August 29, 2015

Commercial projects are starting to stake claims on open land along the Zionsville portion of Michigan Road, catching up with the flurry of mostly retail development that’s already occurred along the Carmel portion of the roadway.

Officials in the Boone County community, long known for its cautious approach to development, aren’t predicting a building boom. But officials do see the potential for major projects, especially farther north, where several large parcels remain up for grabs.

Whitehead Whitehead

“That’s where we have a really big advantage,” said Molly Whitehead, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corp.

Projects already in the works include Hat World’s $19 million headquarters, under construction on 106th Street to the west of the corridor in Creekside Corporate Park, and The Farm, a $90 million, mixed-use project near 116th and Sycamore streets.

Pittman Partners, developer of The Farm, collaborated with Zionsville officials for several years before introducing the 62-acre development, which is slated to include a Fresh Fare by Kroger, other retail shops and apartments.

“We make people work hard when they come to us for projects, but they also get a fair shake,” Zionsville Town Council member Tim Haak said. “We’re pretty honest with them about what projects we’d like to see.”

Pittman Pittman

Pittman Partners principal Steve Pittman agreed.

“They would never let anything start to happen out of control,” he said. “I think that growth will continue to go up Michigan Road. … I don’t think it will be fast, though.”

Developers and government officials say construction of The Farm’s retail and housing, along with construction of additional office space at Creekside Corporate Park, will boost the density of the area and bolster the viability of other new projects.

Haak, a Republican running unopposed for mayor this fall, said the next major development site likely will be 54 acres near the 146th Street intersection, which has been designed for retail and medical office use.

Kite Harris Development has been shopping for an anchor tenant, and Haak said he expects an announcement soon.

“That one I think is pretty close to being a done deal,” he said.

To the north of The Farm, RSE Realty is marketing a couple of smaller parcels. RSE President Stan Evans said most of the interest has been from users that couldn’t comply with the zoning or had a project too big for the property, such as a gas station. A 0.64-acre parcel on the northwest corner of Michigan Road and Sycamore Street is zoned for business, and a 0.34-acre parcel farther north is zoned for light commercial.

Officials also don’t know what will happen with 12 acres on the northeast corner of the 146th Street intersection that Witham Health Services recently purchased. The Lebanon-based health care provider hasn’t revealed plans for the property. The land previously was occupied by Woods Edge Greenhouse and Nursery.

Witham also still owns the parcel on the northeast corner of 116th Street and Michigan. It filed a proposal in 2013 for medical offices and retail, but discussions died down after the Zionsville Plan Commission asked for additional project details.

“We don’t know what their game plan is there,” Haak said. “Witham might be a good fit there, but it just depends on what they’re going to put there.”

Messages left for Witham Health Services representatives were not returned.

Zoning has stood in the way of several projects along the corridor, including a 150,000-square-foot Walmart north of 106th Street that stalled after town officials denied a variance request for it in 2013.

The town has been fending off proposals from the Arkansas-based retailer since 2006, when town officials adopted a big-box ban that limits single users in certain zoning districts to about 60,000 square feet—a restriction town officials have shown no interest in relaxing. The Fresh Fare grocery planned near 116th Street will hit the 60,000-square-foot limit.

Lack of utilities could hold back development elsewhere. For example, a 132-acre property at State Road 32 eventually could be used for commercial or retail, but water and sewer aren’t available yet.

Haak said although the town hasn’t formalized a vision for the northern area, officials expect to draft a strategy for it in the next couple of years.

Real estate broker Craig Kaiser, who is marketing the property on the southeast corner of the State Road 32 intersection, said he’s had interest, but—without utilities—most offers have been for agricultural use.

“I think it’s more suited for commercial, maybe light industrial,” Kaiser said.

He said he doesn’t expect a project soon, “but who knows what five, seven years brings?”•

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