Boone County officials took questions from the public Thursday night about a possible large business development northwest of Lebanon, but they did not have many answers.
Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe said officials with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. approached county leaders about a proposed business development of farm and residential land near Interstate 65.
Commissioner Tom Santelli said about 4,000-7,000 acres of land are involved in the proposed development.
“To clarify, the Boone County Commissioners and the Boone County EDC have not actively participated in any acquisition planning,” Wolfe said at an information session held at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School.
The potential for the development has sparked months of speculation among residents about the scope of the project.
Wolfe said developers have approached residents seeking to buy their land, but the IEDC did not contact the Boone County Commissioners until last week.
People who spoke at the information session expressed frustration with the lack of answers provided by Wolfe and the commissioners. Wolfe said he and the other commissioners are disappointed the state did not contact them sooner.
“We have been approached by the state of Indiana for a possible, potential new development,” Wolfe said. “Nothing has been set in stone at this point.”
Wolfe said state officials told commissioners they want a business that is technology-based. The commissioners will not approve rezoning in that area for traditional warehousing, he said.
Wolfe emphasized the development will not consist of a number of rumored projects, including an airport, drone flight center, truck stop or a penitentiary. Wolfe added he did not have information about the size of the project or its exact location.
“If there’s anything that’s going to happen there, we want it to be a high-end development that has lots of green space and is very respectful of the folks that live here,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe referenced the recently passed Senate Bill 361, which would let the IEDC create Innovation Development Districts to capture sites for large-scale development projects. However, he said he has no confirmation that program would be used in the Boone County development.
“They told us that that is simply a tool, that this development that they’re proposing is not directly related to that,” Wolfe said.
The land would need to be rezoned, Wolfe said, and the IEDC would not be able to facilitate development of the land before going through the county commissioners to obtain a zoning change.
“Right here in Boone County, we believe wholeheartedly in home rule, and we believe that we have the best tools to manage projects and we want to make sure we keep that,” Wolfe said.
Mark Wasky, senior vice president of community affairs for the IEDC, declined to share any specifics about possible developments in the Boone County area, but confirmed the state has received extensive interest there.
“The state has been hearing from our clients that we work with regularly about their needs and, their strategy,” he told IBJ on Friday. “What we’re hearing more and more often is the need for speed, in being able to deliver sites for their [development] opportunities. There is a pretty significant amount of interest in Boone County because of its proximity to two labor sheds, in Indianapolis as well as West Lafayette with one of the world’s greatest research institution.
Wasky said new incentives that are being made available through Senate Bill 361—set for enactment July 1—could be used for a project in Boone County, but any development there doesn’t necessarily hinge upon those tools.
“I would say that the legislation that was passed this year is the tool for us to use to be able to attract truly transformative investments to Indiana,” he said. “If it could be useful in the event that the IEDC and the state of Indiana plays an active role in Boone County or any community in the state, it’s an option for us to deploy.”