BOONE COUNTY, Ind. — Some neighbors in Boone County are frustrated over a potential massive innovation district taking over thousands of acres of county farmland.
Green signs for the Boone County Heritage Preservation Group line some rural roads in the county. The group was formed in response to the state talking with landowners about potentially purchasing 4,000 to 7,000 acres of land along Interstate 65, west of Lebanon, for an “innovation development district.”
“This is a natural resource we need to take care of,” said Alan Mohler, a corn and soy bean farmer on lands that would become part of the development.
Mohler said turning these lands into a huge development would take away a great part of Boone County.
“This some of the best farmland in Indiana,” Mohler said.
Boone County leaders see this development as a huge opportunity for the state.
“If you had to sit in a room and make a list of the things you would like to see in a development near you, this type of development is what we’d be looking for,” said Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe.
Wolfe said county leaders have had several meetings with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and other state partners.
“They’re talking about some high end commercial type uses, hopefully research development, high end manufacturing,” said Wolfe when asked what the land would be used for.
Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said this is a once in a generation project.
“It has the potential to completely transform our community and we want to make sure what we transform it into the community we want to see,” Gentry said. “So, how do we balance our small town charm with these additional potential people and jobs coming into our community?”
As of right now, Gentry said no part of the development would be in Lebanon. However, it would use Lebanon utilities. He added that the goal is to make sure people living in Lebanon don’t have to leave to find opportunity elsewhere.
“That’s what we’re trying to build here in Lebanon,” he said. “We want a place people can live, work and play all here in Lebanon.”
Both Gentry and Wolfe said they have heard from people who dislike like the idea of the project.
“They’re not very happy about it, they’re concerned and have a lot of questions,” Gentry said. “Concerns about how this this going to impact them, concerns the farm field they are used to looking at is potentially changing to something else.”
An online petition against the potential development has gained nearly 1,900 signatures as of mid-May. Carrie Douglas, a member of the Boone County Preservation Group, said the land the state is looking at is already being used for its intended purpose.
“This land is primed for corn,” she said. “That’s a value, that’s a development.”
Members of the group are also concerned about environmental impacts of construction on these lands west of I-65.
“It handles drainage from the city of Lebanon and from these fields so developing on these lands is going to interrupt that natural balance,” Douglas said.
The group is also worried about companies at this potential tech park sticking around, when the land could just stay as farm land for generations to come.
“There’s no reason that I would think this area would not be in food production for eternity, as long as man is going to eat food it should be in ag production,” Mohler said.
There are always concerns about quality of life. Neighbors who live around the possible area of construction are worried what will happen to the peaceful country they love living in.
“Wide open spaces, clear skies, clean air,” Douglas said. “My children come home from school everyday and they play in our creek and I want to make sure they can still do that.”
Douglas said she knows some of the neighbors in the area have already agreed to sell their land to the state while others are holding out.
“There have been quite a few that have signed because of the dollar amount,” she said. “It’s hard to turn that away.”
Both Wolfe and Gentry said they are confident in the direction talks on this development are going.
“The state has really pushed hard to make this work and we’re working with them to facilitate that to the extent that it is right for Boone County,” Wolfe said.
Douglas said the group is committed to fighting for these farmlands.
“We’re not going anywhere,” she said.
A spokesperson for The Indiana Economic Development Corporation said there is nothing new to report about the potential Boone County development since a FOX59 story in April. However, IEDC would be open to an interview in the coming weeks when more develops.