Property owner seeks zoning for 42 acres southeast of city

Neighbors are trying to persuade Bartholomew County officials to deny rezoning an area of Columbus Township for commercial development.

Bartholomew County Plan Commission members have continued for the second time a request from property owner Bruce Nolting to rezone about 42 acres at the southwest corner of U.S. 31 and State Road 46.

Nolting wants the land rezoned from agriculture use to commercial but has not shared his plans with county officials or neighbors.

Plan commission members voted 4-2 in favor of the rezoning during a Thursday meeting, but county rules require five favorable votes to send a recommendation for approval to the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

Zach Ellison, Tom Finke, Phyllis Apple and Lisa Moore voted to recommend approval of the rezoning. Rick Flohr, also one of three county commissioners, and Jorge Morales voted against it. Commission members Don Meier and Jason Newton have recused themselves from voting on the application, and commission member Kris Medic was absent.

The rezoning will be back on the commission’s Dec. 9 meeting agenda, said Jeff Bergman, planning director for Columbus and Bartholomew County.

Rezoning opponents

One neighbor, whose home would be surrounded on three sides by the commercial development, opposes the request.Paul Younger, who has lived on a lot that is carved out of the 42-acre triangular parcel Nolting owns, said he had thought the property would remain agricultural land.Younger told the plan commission that he plans to raise a family at the home and any commercial development — particularly involving more trucks — would be a safety and noise issue.

The plan commission staff in its recommendation to the board asked for increased buffer restrictions between Younger’s property and the Nolting development.

Alan and Gayle Eiler, who live on the northwest corner of U.S. 31 and State Road 46, submitted a letter on behalf of themselves and their neighbors, asking that the property retain agriculture zoning.

The Eilers said the Nolting proposal would require a great deal of traffic to enter and exit the Nolting site near the Younger home. The letter also said all six homes on the on the north side of State Road 46 can expect a blocked view of the countryside, increased traffic noise, lower property values and the potential of more crime.

The couple said the Nolting proposal was a hardship on the Youngers, a newly married couple who purchased the home with the expectation that the surrounding land would always be farmed.

Bartholomew County property records show Younger purchased the 1-acre property from Ross and Shelli Carothers for $140,000 on Jan. 5, 2011. Previously, the land had been part of the Jerry Schnur farm.

Purchased 2 years ago

Bruce K. and Bonnie J. Nolting purchased the 42-acre property from Jerry Schnur on May 28, 2013, for $300,000 — vacant land that was assessed this summer at $90,200.Schnur told plan commission members on Thursday that he opposed the rezoning. During the sale, Schnur said he was reassured by Nolting that the land would continue to be farmed.“Now something has come up, and he’s changed his mind,” Schnur said.

The neighbors at the meeting said rumored uses for the property have been some sort of trucking company hauling hazardous materials or an ethanol plant, but Bergman reassured the neighbors that neither use would be allowed under the commercial zoning Nolting is seeking.

Several neighbors talked about flooding and well-water concerns, saying they feared possible contamination by any more development in the area.

The Eilers wrote to the plan commission that any new commercial development on the land would create the potential for more serious flooding than what has already been experienced by the nearby Mineral Springs subdivision.

Bergman told the neighbors that any commercial development would be required to be served by a public water supply. Eastern Bartholomew Water Co. has water main service on nearby property that could be extended.

Potential commercial uses for the property if rezoned commercial include auto-oriented uses, various types of retail stores, farm equipment sales, a restaurant or office, a hotel or other options.

After the vote, Flohr said he felt as though he had been asked to write a blank check to Nolting even though no one knows what could be developed there.

Since the plan commission doesn’t know what Nolting plans for the property, the commission could add restrictions to the commercial zoning and attach them to any recommendation sent to the county commissioners, Bergman said.

Nolting said he had no comment when asked what he planned to develop on the property or reaction to the neighbors’ concerns.

What's next

A rezoning request for nearly 42 acres in Columbus Township from agricultural to commercial by property owner Bruce Nolting will again come before the Bartholomew County Plan Commission on Dec. 9.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.