FORTVILLE — The Hancock County Area Plan Commission has reversed its decision from last month and OK’d a developer’s proposal to bring 242 lots to part of Fortville’s recently annexed south side.

The commission voted 5-2 in favor of a plat on almost 114 acres at 8700 N. Fortville Pike, east of County Road 200W. Paragon Realty and Westport Homes proposed the subdivision, dubbed Mt. Vernon North. The Fortville Town Council approved plan unit development standards for the project in December 2018.

Last month, some members of the plan commission and neighbors of the site said the proposed development was too dense, resulting in a negative recommendation from the commission. DR Horton, a home-builder that recently acquired Westport homes, decided to appeal February’s vote this week. Hancock County’s technical committee and planning staff are both in favor of the plat, said Mike Dale, executive director of county planning and zoning.

The 242 lots on 114 acres has a density of 2.13 dwelling units per acre, less than the maximum density of 2.3 dwelling units per acre the town council agreed upon as a part of the plan unit development, said John Moore, an attorney representing DR Horton.

The development is one of two subdivisions Fortville officials have been discussing over the past several months that could bring almost 500 home sites to the growing Hancock County town. The plan commission late last year approved a 250-lot addition near Ohio and Merrill streets north of downtown.

The plat for Mt. Vernon North, however, has about 42 acres of open space, including a large grassy area for recreation and wetlands on the southwest side, Fortville planning administrator Adam Zaklikowski has previously said. The remaining acreage is slated for the 242 homes. Some opponents say that’s too many homes on about two-thirds of the land.

John Jessup, a plan commission member and president of the Hancock County Commissioners, said he’s not against Westport Homes and DR Horton, but he dislikes the density of the subdivision. He said it doesn’t meet the intent of the planned unit development since the homes are pushed to one side.

“I personally don’t care that the town of Fortville likes it,” Jessup said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Tom Nigh, president of the plan commission, said the board’s “hands are tied” by state law.

Gregg Morelock, the commission’s attorney, wrote in a letter to the plan commission that case law shows that the board is to make sure a proposed primary plat is consistent with the planning and zoning rules. Dale said the plan commission did not cite any findings last month of non-compliance with the county’s subdivision control ordinance nor with Fortville’s planned unit development ordinance for the property.

Nigh, Michael Long, Bill Bolander, Lacey Willard and Wendell Hester voted in favor of the motion, while Jessup and Byron Holden voted against. Members Dan Cameron and Tom Craig were absent.

Moore told the commission that the design of the subdivision complies with the concept plan approved by the Fortville Town Council, adding it’s been known how the homes have to be positioned due to the wetlands. Based on comments last month from the plan commission, Moore said the developer also increased the depths of some lots by 5 feet and added a left turn lane into the subdivision off Fortville Pike.

Matt Dunn, Westport Homes division president, said the subdivision will have ranch-style and two-story homes averaging between $275,000 and $300,000 in cost. The land will have trails and walkways, a pool and bathhouse as well as landscape buffers near the roads and surrounding farmlands.

Randy Harrison told the commission that the development goes against what makes Hancock County a desirable place to live. People in the county want spacious yards and less traffic than Indianapolis.

“I don’t feel that people move to Hancock County because they want Hamilton County or because they want Marion County,” Harrison said. “I think that our people come to Hancock County because there’s a certain character.”

Harrison admits Fortville is destined to keep growing, but he doesn’t think adding new subdivisions is the best way to drive growth. He said similar homes are being built north of Fortville in Hamilton County and other nearby areas. McCordsville has several housing development projects planned or being considered.

“We don’t have to do this to attract a population or to grow here,” Harrison said.

Kathleen Vahle, who is a member of a Facebook page regarding Fortville annexation and development, said the plan commission as well as the county commissioners are the only board that can give a voice to people who live outside of Fortville, saying the town council is adversely affecting county homeowners.

She said there are other subdivisions near Mt. Vernon North in the northern part of the county, such as Woodhaven near County Roads 600N and 600W, that offer better access to highways and amenities.

“Why would we think that people are going to want to purchase a third-of-an-acre home in the center of nowhere that takes 15 to 17 minutes to get to the highway, and you have all that traffic coming in and out?” Vahle said.

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