On Sept. 21, Greg Wade, a Batesville Main Street board member and its Design Committee chair, asked the Batesville Economic Development Commission to consider spending $37,500 to support downtown land use planning and possibly $20,000 more for the creation of a zoning overlay district ordinance.
The request was spurred after the Batesville Area Arts Council, formerly Rural Alliance for the Arts, was awarded $50,000 in the spring round of the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant. That money plus more local donations will be used to transform Walnut Street between Pearl and George streets with a public art installation and landscaping.
Mayor Mike Bettice told BEDC members Nov. 16 that he and economic development director Sarah Lamping met with Wade several weeks ago about the proposals. They discussed "how to address items in the ordinance manual, in particular one that would look at what type of buildings we would allow in the downtown business district." An overlay district would put some restrictions on what businesses could be located there.
Because there is a cost involved and Economic Development Income Tax funds have dwindled due to shell building payments, Bettice told Wade the city can't help financially with his proposals. However,"we're going to see if we can't do the overlay district in house. It really is a project that should be handled by our planning commission," hopefully in 2019.
He pointed out to Wade the city has done multiple downtown economic development plans over the years, most recently in 2014-15. To do another, "we didn't think that was a good way to spend money at this point."
Of the overlay district, member Andy Saner said, "I know it's been on our list for awhile. The concern I would have is trying to get it done. We're starting to see some investment in downtown." He wants an ordinance in place to prevent downtown businesses that don't fit what leaders want from moving in.
Because updating the 35-year-old planning and zoning portions of the ordinance manual is "a really big project," member Ginnie Faller suggested tackling most pressing sections first.
The mayor noted, "So many pieces in that ordinance manual are connected. It's more than just (creating) an overlay district." He wants the planning commission to work with The Lochmueller Group, Evansville, consultants on the city's comprehensive plan that was finalized in 2017, to bring ordinances up to date "to match what we already have" in that plan.
When the ordinance manual's planning and zoning sections get reworked, "there would be some public meetings involved," according to Bettice. He will reach out to Wade for his help. The mayor wants input about downtown's future from citizens "so that it's something everyone is interested in and it fits our community."
Bettice explained when updating ordinances, there's a fine balance. "You have to be careful you don't overstep" and make rules so specific or building requirements so expensive that businesses will not want to locate in Batesville.
"There's also a question about who's in charge" of downtown's look? "What is the hierarchy of groups?" In the past, the city has had several local architects study drawings. How would they mesh with the Batesville Advisory Plan Commission and Batesville Main Street Design Committee? Which group would have the final say?
Faller, who is a Southeast Indiana Small Business Development Center adviser, said in another city, she's seen groups argue "and nothing gets done."
Lamping's monthly report showed she participated in a discussion on broadband availability in Indiana's Region 9, which includes Ripley and Franklin counties. BEDC President Kevin McGuire reported Gov. Eric Holcomb has earmarked $100 million to help deploy broadband to underserved areas, which includes Franklin County. "It is one of the best programs in the country, but it's a drop in the bucket." McGuire, who is Enhanced Telecommunications Corp.'s chief operating officer, estimated it will cost $2.5 to $4 billion to install broadband everywhere in the state.
McGuire believed, "This is a national issue. We did it with telephone service ... (and) electricity. I really wish the federal government would get back to a universal service for broadband."
Saner wondered how many Hoosier households already have broadband. McGuire guessed about 85 percent. "Where populations exist, broadband exists. I would love to get broadband to everybody. I think fiber is a necessity."
Saner mused, "For the last 15 percent, is it worth $4 billion?" Clerk-Treasurer Paul Gates answered, "Only if you live there."
Community development director Steven Harmeyer recommended a website called https://broadbandnow.com that details how Batesville stacks up. "It's an interesting website for those who have an interest in learning more."
He brought up one other issue, a gateway improvement project funded by the city, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Ripley County Community Foundation to replace the current Batesville signs on east and west I-74 exits. "It's been a long-term goal of the mayor and myself to do something there to better reflect Batesville. We're hoping businesses will want to invest in this.