Rural neighbors vow to continue zoning fight

Neighbors who have questioned allowing commercial development on 42 acres at the southwest corner of U.S. 31 and State Road 46 will now take their case to the Bartholomew County commissioners.

Five members of the Bartholomew County Plan Commission voted Wednesday to recommend that the acreage be rezoned from agriculture to commercial, which will now be sent to the commissioners to consider for a final vote.

Commission members Zack Ellison, Tom Finke, Phyllis Apple, Lisa Moore and Kris Medic voted for the recommendation, with Jorge Morales and Rick Flohr voting against. Commission members Don Meier and Jason Newton recused themselves from the vote.

Before Wednesday’s vote, property owner Bruce Nolting told the commission he does not have a specific buyer for the property but is trying to create an opportunity to locate commercial business on the acreage, while following the plan commission’s rules.

About nine families who live near the property attended the meeting. Several pleaded with the commission to not send the favorable recommendation to the commissioners.

During a public comment period before the vote, Barb Fawbush, who has lived with her husband near the property for about 15 years, asked the commissioners to consider how they would feel if they had moved out to the country for peace and quiet and now faced this uncertainty. The family owns about 10 acres near the Nolting property and had planned on continuing their retirement years there.

The property is outside the city limits, southeast of Columbus.

“We feel very threatened and very upset,” Fawbush said of not knowing what type of commercial venture could go on the property if the county approves it. “I’m pleading with you to consider that.”

Living in the country has allowed the couple to have room to raise a garden and have wonderful neighbors who aren’t too close by, she said.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Fawbush said.

The commercial zoning Nolting is requesting would allow auto-oriented uses, various types of retail stores, farm equipment sales, a restaurant or office, a hotel or other options.

Paul Younger, who lives on a lot carved out of the 42-acre parcel Nolting owns, said when he purchased the property he believed the surrounding land would continue to be farmed, not developed commercially.

Younger, who hopes to raise a family at the home he owns, which is bordered on three sides by Nolting’s property, brought up safety conditions arising from truck traffic that would serve any commercial development on the site.

“Trucks have to deliver to those businesses,” Younger told the commission. “Think about the traffic in the area. Bruce has a right to do this, but we need to know what is going on,” he said.

After the vote, the neighbors gathered outside the Columbus City Hall council chambers, providing contact information to city/county plan commission staff members to receive notification when the commissioners will take up the recommendation.

Flohr, also a county commissioner, said it was unrealistic for the neighbors to believe that property surrounding them would never change. However, he also said that, no matter what happens, whatever is developed should not injure property owners who live nearby.

He said he thought more information from Nolting about how the property would be developed would be helpful, although he said he understood Nolting doesn’t know what those plans are now.

Bruce K. and Bonnie J. Nolting purchased the property from Jerry Schnur on May 28, 2013, for $300,000 as vacant land that up until now was used as farmland.

Schnur told the commission that he is bothered that Nolting told him before the sale that the land would continue to be farmed.

“A thousand times I wished I’d never sold it, but that’s hindsight,” Schnur said. “It bothers me I sold the ground to him and a lot of people don’t want it commercial. I feel responsible for that, and I hope they don’t hold it against me.”

What's next

The Bartholomew County Commissioners meet at 10 a.m. Mondays at the county’s Governmental Office Building, 440 Third St. A date for commissioners to consider a rezoning request to commercial from agricultural by property owner Bruce Nolting was not immediately set.

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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.