Businesses along U.S. 31 will be forced to move with construction. They say it’s unfair.

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Since, 1968, Wilson Farm Market has operated along U.S. 31 in Arcadia, overseen by three generations of Wilsons. (Cate Charron / Inside INdiana Business)

Scott and Amanda Wilson’s 9-year-old daughter is planning to take over the family business one day.

Since, 1968, Wilson Farm Market has operated along U.S. 31 in Arcadia, overseen by three generations of Wilsons. However, that might not be true for the next one. The Wilsons will lose their business location in December 2024 due to the road construction on U.S. 31.

Fighting with with the Indiana Department of Transportation has been a rite of passage in his family, Scott Wilson said. He said now it’s his turn to take the torch.

“This was here before INDOT existed,” he said of the business at 1720 E. 256th St., about 13 miles directly north of Carmel.

The Wilson Farm Market has similar offerings to a grocery store, but the products are mostly locally sourced. (Cate Charron / Inside INdiana Business)

Several members of the rural community in northern Hamilton County have been staunch opponents to a project meant to improve safety along U.S. 31. Business owners say their operations are being unfairly forced off the corridor, while they and other community members feel the project poses public safety risks.

INDOT said in a statement that the U.S. 31 Limited Access Project was designed to reduce wrecks along the corridor, which was shown to be needed after a 2018-2020 traffic study. The agency said the data showed about 11 crashes per mile per year.

Several groups have also lobbied for the corridor from South Bend to Indianapolis to be streamlined for faster travel times, safety benefits and economic development.

The project stretches from State Road 38 to 286th Street, spanning about 7.5 miles. Two interchanges are currently under construction at 236th and 276th Streets. Other work on overpasses and cul-de-sacs will begin in the latter part of 2024, INDOT said.

Specifically for the 236th Street interchange, INDOT reported eminent domain caused 20 houses and one commercial property to vacate. In total, the project will affect 38 parcels, of which 14 went through condemnation, which is the process when an agreement is not found and usually heads to court.

INDOT said it is working with local businesses to finalize real estate acquisitions, and direct communication has been made with home and business owners who are affected.

According to the study and outreach initiative ProPEL31’s website, public meetings for the U.S. 31 South project were conducted on Dec. 8, 2022, and June 14 and 15. Nine other community education events have been scheduled, with three coming up in September and four in October. Those events will take place along the south’s construction path from 276th Street to just south of Eel River in Miami County in Tipton, Kokomo and Peru.

Business owners: Not fair and not needed

Local business owners and patrons have expressed their contempt for requiring businesses to move. Those owners say they feel shut out of the decision-making, and that the project isn’t necessary.

The property Wilson’s family owns is split by U.S. 31 but will be further severed by the expanded highway. The road project has led to the land where the business stands being seized through eminent domain as well as Wilson’s aunt’s house ending up landlocked. What the state is doing, he said, feels like it’s putting them out of business.

“It’s no big deal for the state to take a business when they just are buying real property,” he said. “They’re not buying the business, even though they’re putting me out.”

Scott Wilson is critical of the state’s use of eminent domain and says it will likely had adverse effect on his business.

It’s going to be hard to close the doors on the last day, Wilson said. The business has grown tremendously since he took over from his parents who retired in 2019—about a 40% increase. Its annual revenue is in the seven figures, he said, and it employs about 38 people.

INDOT said it determines real estate offers using fair market value as stated in state and federal guidelines. According to those manuals, an appraiser would evaluate the property to which the owner can accompany and compare the plot with recent land value and other nearby sales. Guidelines state an appraiser must ignore the future potential a public project could have on a property’s value.

Wilson’s lawyers are working on an appraisal, but he said the value is up in the air. Since eminent domain evaluates just property value, he said the shock his business will experience in the move won’t be compensated. What would make it fairer, he said, is if the state paid for the value of the business as well.

“We’re going to get absolutely murdered,” he said. “I don’t come out of this thing remotely whole.”

Indiana Golf Car owner Joel Peters said his newly owned business will likely have to find a new location. The business has been on the corner of 266th Street and U.S. 31 for almost as long as Peters has worked there: 22 years. An overpass is planned for the intersection, and he would stay if his road had a cul-de-sac.

“I’m not happy about it. I’d like to stay here,” he said. “I’m a new business owner here, taking over, so I would like to keep my expenses down as low as possible as I get started.”

Peters knew this was a problem he was going to inherit. He has owned the business since last October after the previous owners retired and sold it to him. The impending eminent domain and road construction were both reasons they got out of the business now, he said.

Indiana Golf Car will have to move out sometime in the next year or two, or as Peters says “whenever they kick us out.” He said he doesn’t have an exact date yet.

The state will help him find a new location and compensate for the move, Peters said. No amounts have been discussed yet, but he hasn’t heard anything since the initial notification letter.

Unlike Wilson, Peters doesn’t own the land his business resides on. The rent has been fair, he said, and trying to find another suitable location is a scary thought.

All of it, Peters said, involves too much money, time and human sacrifice, simply in an effort to reduce stoplights. Both he and Wilson said they don’t know anyone locally who is happy about the project.

“I just don’t think it’s necessary to spend all this money, buy all these people out of these houses just so somebody can get from South Bend to Indianapolis faster,” Peters said. “It just baffles my mind they would spend that kind of money to do that.”

Peters mentions a customer, Vernon Thompson, whose nearby house has been vacant since the state bought it earlier this year. He described how Thompson and his wife put so much work into the house when they lived there. It’s not right to see the disrepair it’s fallen into, he said, but assumes it’ll just be bulldozed eventually.

Thompson, 84, said he’s happy about the price the state paid for his house, but not much else. He hates driving past his old place, so he tries to avoid it.

He and his wife had lived at the property right on U.S. 31 for 32 years until the state closed the sale earlier this year. They had planned to live out their lives in that house. However, the state offered $75,000 more than what he would have listed the house for and paid for movers. He said he didn’t have much of a choice, though, and feels the project isn’t necessary.

“It’s a shame, but they call it progress,” he said. “It wasn’t necessary, but they did it anyway.”

Safety concerns now and in the future

If Peters hears tire squeals and a crash outside in his office, he said he just picks up the phone and dials 911. He doesn’t need to look. He said he understands the project is meant to make the road safer, but the opposite is happening in the meantime.

Peters, the Wilsons and other community members have expressed concerns online and in public meetings about how the project is causing more accidents in the interim, but also that it could delay emergency response times when roads are dead-ended and traffic is funneled.

INDOT said it has worked with local authorities throughout the project, including Jackson Township Fire, Cicero Fire, Sheridan Fire Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Hamilton County Emergency Management and the Indiana State Police.

Through these relationships, INDOT said it has worked to reduce any impacts on response times, and feedback from those organizations was used when choosing overpass locations and cul-de-sac structures. The median will also contain turnabouts.

Jackson Township Fire and the Hamilton County Highway Department did not respond to requests for comment from Inside INdiana Business.

Derek Arrowood, superintendent of the Hamilton Heights School Corp., said the school district has no concerns regarding slowed emergency response times as a result of the construction.

He stresses his district’s neutrality on the topic. The partnership with INDOT and local officials has been tremendous, Arrowood said, and they’ve met multiple times to share updates.

“State Route 31 up here is so much more dangerous in the short term while they’re doing the work,” he said. “But that work is going to take several years to complete.”

Surviving the move

Compounded with inflation and interest rates, the business owners said they are worried about the cost of moving, maintaining their customer base and where they will end up. Like most places, land prices in the county have been rising, with Hamilton County being especially costly. With empty plots instead of businesses, they are worried customers may assume they are closed instead of moved.

“An unfortunate possibility is we don’t reopen,” Wilson said “And that is terrible, absolutely atrocious, not something I want to happen, but certainly in the realm of possibilities.”

Without a financial figure to work with, Wilson said it’s hard to move forward. He doesn’t know if the state payout will be a sum he can retire on or just one month’s rent at a new location. He does say he can build the business up again somewhere else to be successful, but keeping it afloat during the move is the caveat.

“It’s the reality of surviving because, obviously, a new business is not going to start off making money,” he said. “And if the compensation here is so little, then you have no safety net.”

The Wilsons’ plans change from day to day on what they think will be best for their family and the business. He and his wife don’t know if they will move into town or find another plot of land. The most likely scenario, they said, is rebuilding across 31 since Wilson’s dad owns the land.

The Wilsons’ customers recognize the owners and keep asking them what will happen next. Their customers are their community, they said, and it’s a sense of community that isn’t seen much anymore. It’s something they, their employees and their customers don’t want to lose.

“It’s a little bit like times of old. You really feel a sense of responsibility to your community, to your fellow man,” he said. “We are kind of out here on our own.”

Wilson Farm Market sponsors baseball and football teams and the Fourth of July fireworks show. The business feeds public responders for free and runs fundraisers. Wilson said some of his employees are so close they might as well change their last name to Wilson, noting they let one employee stay with them for six months until she got on her feet. petition started by Wilson to keep the intersection at 256th Street open has nearly 1,500 signatures. A few hundred people have expressed their appreciation and desire for Wilson’s to stay in business online.

Wilson’s goal is to raise enough hell so this won’t happen again to someone else. He said he won’t bend his morals for a payout and wants to be an example of change.

“If I help any other family businesses [by] raising Cane, then I felt like I’ve succeeded,” he said. “I cannot sacrifice what is right. I just can’t do it.”

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19 thoughts on “Businesses along U.S. 31 will be forced to move with construction. They say it’s unfair.

    1. Tell us you know nothing about retail business without telling us you know nothing about retail business.

  1. We love Wilson’s and regularly make the trip up from Carmel for their fried chicken, pretzel bread, pies and a half dozen other items. That said, the intersection is an accident waiting to happen…if ones haven’t already. Going 60mph northbound and then slowing down to near zero to make a right-hand turn, I’m always afraid someone behind won’t be paying attention and plow into me. And, crossing the two northbound lanes, waiting in the center to turn southbound on the way home is like playing a game of frogger. Eventually someone will be killed or seriously injured. I truly feel bad for the Wilsons and will continue to support them but in this instance (and perhaps with other businesses that line US 31, too), I wouldn’t frame what’s being done as “progress” but as making it safer for their customers and traveller, alike.

    1. @Dominic M. The population of Hamilton County went from 50,000 to 350,000 between 1970 and present day. Traffic has drastically increased as development spreads further north.

    1. People will not give up their cars to take a train. How would they stop and support Wilson’s (or any other business) along the way?

    2. It would alleviate unnecessary commuter traffic, thus reducing the need to continuously expand and widen roads.

      I went to up South Bend and Michigan City yesterday. I would’ve killed to have been able to take a train.

      And nobody would’ve been forced out of their cars. That’s a silly myth. If you still want to drive, just drive.

    3. there is barely enough support to get a train to chicago. you and 4 other people might use a train to SB. I love the idea but the taxpayers don’t need subsidize anything else.

    4. I would say also part of the money the state spends on subsidizing trucking with thousands of miles of multilane Interstate highways should be funneled toward making the freight rail system more efficient so there are less trucks, less road expansion, and less maintenance.

      I know the US has always kept rail as private property, but the rest of the world has woken up to the fact that capitalism doesn’t always allocate resources in the most efficient manner.

  2. This is the HamCo Machine funding itself and gladhanding contracts for unnecessary projects that won’t be completed in a timely fashion or done in a quality manner. The same “decision makers” are responsible for Allisonville & 146, Hwy 37, and soon — Hazel Dell & 146. The both 236th and 266th st flyovers have been under construction for 2 years with no sign of being close to being done. Complicated projects that are never completed on budget, on time, on original specification, or with any degree of long term quality.

    I would wager that the targe of 256th street has more to do with not paying fealty to The Machine and not truly based on public safety.

  3. And complicated projects often do require additional time. Inflation and supply chain issues have affected construction throughout the nation. Certainly, Hamilton County projects do not experience delays and cost changes to an extent significantly different that other localities. So how long should a project last? And if one checks with that county and state and construction managers, has a satisfactory explanation for the cause time and cost increases been provided? Have project documents regarding justification, analysis, and cost estimates been reviewed? Innuendo and suppositions do not reflect reality. However, the public input process is key; and interested parties have the right to be heard and for due process — and should continue in the quest to keep access to 256th.

  4. Progress requires sacrifice. Hopefully the appraisal (call it what you want) comes in higher than expected. I have a friend that lost her home via eminent domain for the 465/I69 connection. The city bought about 12 properties. She received nearly 3x what the market value was for the house. Her moving expenses were also covered. She won the lottery tax free.

    1. A property has a set value. A business on the property? That’s not given the same kind of value. It’s not “winning the lottery” to lose your family’s multigenerational livelihood, no matter how much they pay for it.

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