Bid to rezone farm stalls

A property owner seeking to rezone land southeast of Columbus for commercial development has agreed to put the request on hold until April.

The Bartholomew County Commissioners must make a decision on the rezoning request from Bruce K. Nolting by April 11, or Nolting’s request will be automatically approved, said Jeff Bergman, Columbus-Bartholomew County planning director.

Nolting wants 42 acres of farmland bordered by State Road 7, U.S. 31, State Road 46 and County Road 300E rezoned to allow for commercial development, although he doesn’t have a prospect or a specific new use for the property.

If the commissioners had voted against the rezoning, the request couldn’t be considered again until September, Bergman said.

The no vote was a possibility as county commissioner Rick Flohr, also a member of the Bartholomew County Plan Commission, had voted against a recommendation for the rezoning at a plan commission meeting Dec. 9.

That vote became significant during Monday’s hearing after another commissioner, Carl Lienhoop, excused himself from considering the matter because Nolting is his cousin.

That left only Flohr and commissioner Larry Kleinhenz as the two potential decision-makers.

“It’s not that I would never vote in favor of this,” Flohr told Nolting.

“I just want to see more homework being done.”

In May 2013, Nolting purchased the farmland for $300,000 from Jerry Schnur and farmed for three growing seasons.

But with three major highways bordering the property, as well as a county comprehensive plan that targets the area for future commercial development, Nolting decided last year to ask that the land be rezoned from agriculture to commercial.

A recommendation that the commissioners approve rezoning — to allow developments such as retail stores, restaurants, schools, offices and motels — was approved with a 5-2 vote by the plan commission.

Flohr said he wants Nolting to meet with nearby neighbors who oppose the request to develop a list of acceptable developments for the property. Worries expressed by opposing neighbors include increased traffic, farmland preservation and a desire to maintain a peaceful rural setting.

Some of the neighbors who spoke Monday at the commissioners meeting said they were frightened by rumors that future zoning changes may be sought that would allow heavy industry to locate on the property.

In response, attorney Joyce Thayer Sword, who represents Nolting, said any developer will have to go through several channels that includes getting a building permit, obtaining site plans, addressing drainage issues and traffic concerns.

“We are not asking you to turn your heads,” Thayer Sword told the commissioners. “We are setting it up to where you can make more decisions regarding the future of Columbus and Bartholomew County.”

Nolting said he specifically asked Bergman if he needed to have a specific business ready to develop the land when he requested the zoning change last year.

“(Bergman) informed me that is not a requirement for the rezoning,” Nolting told the commissioners.

But with about 10 opponents attending Monday’s commissioners meeting, Kleinhenz suggested to Nolting that tabling the request might be in his best interest.

“If you do the math, you’re kind of limited today,” Kleinhenz told Nolting. “If this thing dies, you are back to the drawing table. You may want to sit on this awhile, do a little more homework, and think specifically about what might go there.”

Flohr admitted county officials don’t have the legal authority to require Nolting and the neighbors to meet.

“But it’s been my experience that if you want to have good neighbors, you have to be a good neighbor,” Flohr said.

About the proposed zoning district

The specific zoning district requested by Bruce K. Nolting for his 42 acres southeast of Columbus is called Commercial: Regional Center.

This district is intended to establish appropriate locations for a variety of business that either (1) serve a regional market, or (2) require convenient access to high-volume transportation routes. This district should be limited to locations with access and infrastructure which is compatible with the needs of regional-serving businesses and facilities.  This district should be focused at key intersections, rather than extended along corridors.  In Bartholomew County, this district is intended for use only in coordination with concentrations of other comparatively high-density development where services can efficiently be provided.

Source: Section 3.21: Bartholomew County Zoning Ordinance

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.