Against the objections of dozens of residents, members of Lebanon City Council voted Monday to annex 5,225 acres of land for the LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District, marking another milestone in the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s path to creating an advanced manufacturing and technology hub in central Indiana.
The seven-member council voted 5-1 to approve the second phase of voluntary annexation for the LEAP district, a planned 11,000-acre, high-tech innovation park in Boone County. LEAP is short for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.
Council member Mike Kincaid voted against the measure and council member Sierra Messenger was absent.
The council also voted unanimously to create a new zoning district for the LEAP territory.
The IEDC and 43 Boone County landowners had asked the city to annex 122 separate parcels west of Interstate 65, bordered to the north by the Big 4 Trail, to the west by County Road 500 West and to the south by County Road 50 South. Properties to the north of Big 4 Trail will be zoned residential, with the rest being part of the LEAP district.
The city earlier this year approved the first phase of voluntary annexation of more than 56 parcels totaling 1,400 acres.
Residents opposed to the project voiced concerns over the loss of farmland, increased traffic congestion and the massive amount of water that will be needed to support the district.
State officials are currently exploring the feasibility of transporting up to 100 million gallons of water a day through a 35-mile pipeline to carry water from the Wabash aquifer in Lafayette.
IEDC officials say the pipeline will support both the LEAP district and the water needs of central Indiana communities for decades to come.
“This is a regional-generating water solution that is spurred by an economic development project, but will assist with growth in the entire region up and down this pipeline,” David Rosenberg, IEDC executive vice president, told council members at Monday’s meeting. “This will be a market-driven development.”
In response to residents’ concerns that the state was buying up property that it wouldn’t pay taxes on, Rosenberg said much of the land that the IEDC has under purchase agreements will be turned over to the private sector.
Eli Lilly and Co. has agreed to invest more than $2 billion to build two manufacturing plants in the district, and the IEDC is actively working to attract companies in microelectronics, aerospace and transportation, sustainable manufacturing and other high-tech industries to the district.
Lebanon Planning Director Ben Bontrager said the LEAP district will bring between $1 million and $1.5 million in annual tax revenue to the city of Lebanon.
“They’re gonna generate way more revenue than the services they need,” Bontrager said. “This is going to be a net positive to the city.”
But not everyone is convinced. Donnie Lawson, a Boone County commissioner and a second-generation farmer, said the loss of farmland could have devastating impacts on the local economy.
“You don’t understand what it does to the ag business in this county, and how many businesses here in Lebanon rely on agriculture in this county,” Lawson said.
As the council prepared to vote on the annexation, Kim Love, a member of Boone County Preservation Group, which was formed in opposition to the LEAP district, asked council members to consider the ramifications of their decision.
“None of us in this community are against development or progress or growth, but we would like to see it done in a more organic fashion instead of being bulldozed over by the state,” Love said.