Saturday, March 17th, 2007
An interesting article caught my eye last week about a proposed new development in Sheridan, Indiana that would bring 1,500 new homes there. This on top of the 600 homes being built by starter home developer CP Morgan. Hamilton County is one of the fastest growing in the nation, but Sheridan, located in the northwest part of the county, was too remote to have seen much of this and remained a sleepy, traditional Indiana small town of about 2,600 people. It was probably best known as the home of the Red Onion, which is famous for having one of Indiana’s, and thus one of the world’s, best breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches. These new developments have the potential to double the population of the town. Development attracts development, so presumably more will be on the way. To start to get a handle on this growth, the town has established an architectural review committee.
This set my mind to thinking about which places in the Indianapolis area might end up as the next Fishers. That is, a small town that in a short period of time is transformed into a large suburban community and commercial center. Here are my thoughts on a few of the surrounding towns.
Sheridan (Hamilton County). I might as well start here. Clearly, assuming this new housing development goes forward, the area is primed for growth. Northern Hamilton County suffers compared to other areas because the main north-south route, US 31, is heavily congested. Unless you are commuting to Carmel or Westfield, you’ve got a long drive just to get to the freeway. I believe this lack of good north-south connections will constrain growth everywhere in northern Hamilton County for a while. But, help is on the way in the form of a freeway upgrade that, if things go well, should see US 31 upgraded within 10 or 12 years. Sheridan has great direct connections to US 31 in the form of Sheridan Rd. (SR 38) and 236th St. that should be adequate to handle growth for some time without major upgrades. Land is cheap as well, which attracts the like of CP Morgan. The other thing that attracts these builders is light regulation. Many developers prefer building in unincorporated areas or smaller towns because there are fewer restrictions on what can be built. Westfield is looking to tighten up its standards significantly, which should have developers starting to look elsewhere. To the extent that Sheridan includes things like an architectural review committee, this may constrain growth, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Right now Sheridan is looking like an emerging growth story.
Cicero (Hamilton County). Located just north of Noblesville and along the Morse Reservoir, I always thought Cicero was a logical place for growth. It already has about 4,300 people and a quaint Main St., along with, again, the key amenity of the reservoir. However, population has been stagnant here for some time and it suffers from poor north-south access as well. I don’t expect major growth here, or in the other smaller burgs laid out along SR 19, Arcadia and Atlanta.
Whitestown (Boone County). I’ve written a lot about Whitestown in the context of the Boone County annexation battles. This crossroads of 700 people has annexed a huge chunk of land, and is trying to gobble up even more. This includes one of the premier interstate corridors in the region along I-65. Industrial growth is already exploding there. Duke Realty is developing the huge Anson development which could see 10,000 residents within 15 years. So for Whitestown, it’s a matter of how fast, not if, development will occur. This is somewhat surprising to me since Boone County was traditionally one the strongest of the collar counties in trying to preserve its rural character. The problem I guess is that the traditional bastion of this was Zionsville, which simply didn’t grow very much. Whitestown was one exit further out the road, and simply decided to throw growth into high gear. They are one of the few small towns that are explicitly high growth as a matter of policy and which has huge ambitions to become a major player in the region. They are actually benchmarking themselves against Carmel, which should see where the town is aiming. Whitestown faces three main challenges. First, they’ve got to growth the infrastructure of a town from basically nothing. That’s hard. The water utility notoriously has problems. This will constrain things for a whle. Second, the longevity of the current town leadership is in question. The current town council has taken a very aggressive stance towards growth. But as these annexations come online, the council districts will be redrawn and the current council is none too popular with many of the folks they’ve annexed. They could easily be booted out on their ears at the next election. Third, there’s the legal risk around these annexations. If Whitestown loses control of the I-65 corridor to Fayette, this would obviously crimp growth. Regardless of who controls the land, though, development is a reality in this corridor.
Pittsboro (Hendricks County). This town of 2,200 was put on the map when a steel mini-mill was built there. Hendricks County is the second fastest growing county in the state, and Pittsboro is the next exit out from the established suburb of Brownsburg. The population is up 41% since 2000. But still, that’s only 650 people. Whether this town will stay on its current brisk but not insane growth path or explode with subdivisions is unknown.
Bargersville (Johnson County). This town of 2,500 people is south of the Greenwood area. Everything that I’m about to say about this is hearsay since I know little about this town, so take it with a grain of salt. Johnson County seems to take a skeptical eye towards suburban development in unicorporated areas. This is in contrast to other places where developers actually favor county jurisdictions. I hear that Bargersville has one of the most permissible regimes in Johnson County, which is attracting developers, though how much growth will end up there remains to be seen.
Edinburgh (Johnson County). This is the next exit south of Franklin on I-65 in Johnson County. This town of 4,500, best known of an outlet mall by the freeway, hasn’t been growing, but given its prime location, it seems like at least a possibility.
New Palestine (Hancock County). This town has grown to 1,800 people, up 600 or 44% since 2000. It’s high school has one of the top graduation rates in the state. It’s a bit remote from the freeway, but is located along Brookville Rd. (US 52) which connnects to I-465 on the southeast side. Going north-south, Mt. Comfort Rd. connects to I-70. I again don’t know too much about this community, but I’ve been through it before and was very surprised by the high quality, upscale development here. Usually you see lots of starter home communities in these smaller places, but many of the subdivisions out here are are full of 100% brick homes that are nicer than much of what is found in Hamilton County. Lack of freeway access will probably keep this from going crazy in terms of growth, but INDOT has a Major Moves project to widen Brookville Rd. to four lanes all they way out to the town. The challenge is to make sure that the state does a good job on this key gateway corridor. Unfortunately, the previous widening from I-465 to Post Rd. was simply the single worst modern day road project design in the state of Indiana. It is Exhibit A in the Hall of Shame. Most of this road is in the City of Indianapolis, which obviously does not care what the state throws up, so unless things change one should expect a very poor primary gateway into this community.
Cumberland (Marion/Hancock Counties). Cumberland is one of the rare towns that crosses county lines in Indiana. It is mostly in Marion County, where it counts as one of the numerous “included cities” under Unigov. Presumably the Hancock County section is considered a “real” town. This bizarre setup makes Cumberland unique in Indiana. Since no further annexations can occur in Marion County, the future growth of this town, if any, lies to the east. Highway access will continue to be an issue as this town is several miles from the nearest freeway. A forthcoming widening project on Washington St. should greatly relieve traffic congestion headed to I-465 there. This includes a mile long section of extensive streetscaping through Cumberland. The town fought INDOT’s original proposal for a simple high capacity thoroughfare and got the plans changed to a much, much better version, for their section at least. This shows a town whose leaders “get it”. (I also know the planning department there has a steady hand at the tiller). A new I-70 interchange at German Church Rd. has long been on the books, but no firm plans exist yet. This would really open up access in the area. The town currently has about 5,300 people.
McCordsville (Hancock County). This town of 1,300 (according to the most recent Census estimates, though I’ve been told the actual number is closer to 4,500) lies in extreme northwest Hancock County, adjacent to Lawrence in Marion County and Fishers in Hamilton County. The proximity to Fishers and the Geist Reservoir area would suggest this prime to be the “next Fishers”. However, with as with many of these towns, highway access is an issue. A project that launches this year will finish the rebuild of Pendleton Pike connecting McCordsville to I-465 as a four to six lane road. And Hamilton County continues to work at widening Olio Rd. to four lanes, which provides a direct route to I-69. (Olio Rd. becomes Mt. Comfort Rd. in Hancock County and is part of the loosely cooridated surface outer belt highway along with Olio, 146th St., and the Ronald Reagan Parkway). Still, this is by no means a freeway town. The busy Conrail main line cuts the town in two as well. Also, like Whitestown, it lacks a critical mass of town infrastructure to support heavy growth, which will constrain things. Still, the comprehensive plan envisions a town buildout of 35,000 people and there seems to be a pretty pro-growth attitude.
Fortville (Hancock County). Fortville is the next town out Pendleton Pike. At 3,600 people it is has a critical town mass. However, it suffers from even worse freeway connectivity, relying on two-lane SR 238 and SR 13 to connect to I-69 a good 10 to 15 miles out from I-465. It also has the Conrail problem. What’s more, it is constrained to the north by Madison County line. In order to annex territory into Madison County, the county commissioners would need to give permission, and this has been pretty rare in Indiana.
SR 13/I-69 (Madison County). I don’t even put a town name here since the area is unincorporated. This is the first exit beyone Fishers in Madison County. Fortville is a few miles south and Lapel is a few miles north. A town of 1,400 called Ingalls lies to the east a bit. At some point, Lapel might conceivably annex the area north of the exit some day. Ingalls is a likely bet to annex the south of the exit at some point. This isn’t so much the next Fishers as just an extension of Fishers into another county. There are a already subdivisions going in up and down SR 13, and Madison County would eventually like to see that road turned into a four-lane boulevard like 146th St. Conceivably, Fishers itself could seek to annex land in this area, though again, that would require the Madison County Commissioners permission. What’s more, Fishers would have to want to annex it. Fishers has impact fees, design standards, etc. to try to make their residential development affordable in the long run. They are probably a great example of how to put things in place to cope with rampant suburban growth. Again, developers sometimes don’t like this, so cross into a neighboring jurisdiction to build things that wouldn’t get approved in Fishers. So the SR 13 developments many not be something Fishers even wants, and no doubt annexation would be fought tooth and nail anyway. I predict Fishers will be more than content to stop at the border. Eventually some sort of municipal services need to be brought to the development near this interchange, which is primed to be a huge development site in coming years.
Other than Whitestown, which already has thousands of approved lots, none of these seems like a sure bet to have truly explosive growth. But any of them could hockey-stick upwards. If history shows anything, it is that it’s difficult to predict the future. The next boomtown could be someplace I haven’t even mentioned. But these are the places I recommend keeping an eye on.