The Indiana Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s decision Thursday that evidence did not support the town of Fortville’s contention that it needed the land it wanted to voluntarily annex in the near future.
Fortville sought to annex 644 acres of land into the town, but a number of remonstrators, making up 93 percent of the owners of parcels within the annexation area, filed a petition challenging it. The trial court determined the statutory requirement for annexation hadn’t been met. Fortville appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, finding the trial court failed to apply the proper legal standard in assessing whether Fortville needed and could use the annexation territory in question.
Justice Robert Rucker wrote the decision in the case, saying the trial court did give substantial deference to Fortville’s decision to annex. He said he recognized courts play a limited role in these decisions, “but that does not mean a trial court’s role is to sustain blindly an annexation decision simply because it is the product of legislative decision-making.” The trial court has a role to play in making sure the conditions of the statute have been met and, in this case, they had not.
The COA ruled that the trial court was looking for physical construction on the property when it said Fortville would not be able to use it, and Fortville could use the property in other ways. However, the Supreme Court said the COA was mistaken and based its ruling on a footnote it read too broadly.
The Supreme Court said the trial court also considered non-brick-and-mortar evidence as well, including the growth of other towns around it.
Fortville has no plans to build roads through the territory, provide sanitary sewer service or parks and recreation services to the territory in the near future. Also, none of the remonstrators have been approached by developers interested in their land, and Fortville presented no evidence it plans to encourage remonstrators to sell their land.
“But the evidence does not show how with the addition of this land to Fortville the town will develop in any other way or in any other direction in the reasonably near future, aside from the Annexation Territory providing an increased tax base from which to recoup police protection fees, road maintenance fees, and fire hydrant protection fees,” Rucker wrote.
Finally, Fortville annexed 775 acres of land in 2007, and 500 acres of that had yet to be developed, and Fortville presented no evidence of impending development on any of that annexed land.