WESTFIELD, Ind. – Homeowners in Westfield and wildlife enthusiasts oppose a project working its way through the Westfield city government.
The Westfield Planning Commission unanimously approved plans Wednesday for the Aurora Development. The project would sit on 314 acres just south east of US 31 and SR 32 in Westfield.
“We’re not opposed to growth, but it needs to be done in a responsible manner and that’s what we feel is lacking with the Aurora project,” Westfield resident and Providence Wildlife Founder Kristen Heitman said.
Heitman bought her Westfield home 10 years ago to start her mission of caring for wildlife. In 1999, she opened Providence Wildlife Rehabilitation Inc. with the goal of rescuing injured animals in Hamilton County and the surrounding areas. Today, she cares for up to 1,500 birds, rabbits and other mammals a year from 23 different counties at her home.
“They are outside enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, the sounds of nature,” Heitman said.
But that way of life for Heitman and her animals could change soon. Developer Chris White, who denied an interview for this story, is planning to turn the 314 acres surrounding her home into a mixed-use development that would include residential, commercial and industrial uses.
“If we cannot do our job of rehabilitation correctly and properly for the birds, they will suffer, and we could lose our permits to do this if we can’t do it successfully,” Heitman said.
Heitman said she’s concerned that with new buildings going up and increased traffic around her, her animals will be exposed to unnatural noises and artificial lights, which are both not good things for animals working to get back into the wild.
“We take in so many (animals), if we had to shut down or relocate to another county it would be devastating for the wildlife here in Hamilton County,” Heitman said.
And she’s not alone. Homeowners in the area have created a formal opposition to the development. The Responsible Growth Alliance of Westfield has created yard signs that read, “Aurora Hurts Homeowners.”
City Council member Joe Edwards (R-Westfield), who represents the homeowners adjacent to the development, said he feels the project’s plans are too broad concerning what kind of businesses and industries can move into different parts of the 300+ acre project.
“I know we need economic growth, but is this the right kind and in the right place?” Edwards said.
However, others on the council feel this project is needed in the city and fits with Westfield’s comprehensive plan.
“It meets the comprehensive plan and that’s something the community started working on years ago,” council member Steve Hoyer (R-Westfield), said.
Hoyer is one of two council members who sit on the planning commission and said compared to the previous zoning for the land, this is a better deal for the hoemowners. He explained after several public discussions on the project the commission has required additional buffers and height restrictions for buildings adjacent to homes. He explained while everyone would love to have a cornfield in their backyard, the growth in Hamilton County is just not condusive for that anymore.
“As we grow, things change and I think this a good alternative for up there,” Hoyer said.
The Westfield City Council will have the final say on the project. The group is expected to vote on the development at its meeting Monday night.