$5.7M land deal raises environmental, cost concerns among Zionsville taxpayers

Superintendent says deal will bring in tax revenue

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. - A $5.7 million land deal is raising eyebrows among some Zionsville taxpayers and former town officials.

The school district is partnering with the town of Zionsville and the redevelopment commission to buy 126 acres located at 106th Street Parkway and Zionsville Road.

Zionsville Community Schools is partnering with the town of Zionsville and the redevelopment commission for the project.

The school district will use 10 acres to build a warehouse and maintenance facility, and the town will take title to the remaining land and break it up for commercial development.

The town will have a mortgage and will make payments back to the school district almost immediately.

"It actually is a great deal for all of us," said Dr. Scott Robison, superintendent of Zionsville Community Schools. "So, it doesn't impact the taxpayers in terms of bonding for a new amount to get the properties."

The project has been in the works for more than two years, but some taxpayers and former town officials are upset because they just learned about the land deal when the school board approved it unanimously on Monday night.

"I went off the town council Dec. 31 of 2011, and I never heard a peep about this," said Art Harris, former town council member and 32-year Zionsville resident. "Where's the open process? Where's the transparency in government?"

"It's the public's money," said Valerie Swack, recent member of the town council and redevelopment commission. "At face value, it could be very innovative. However, I want to make sure it's not being rushed through."

Former county commissioner Wendy Brant has environmental concerns about the land.

"Obviously the land has liability issues, and I'm concerned about that," said Brant. "There are certain things that have been buried in the ground."

According to documents obtained from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, at least part of the site was owned by the Pittman-Moore Company from 1913 to 1960 for the production of pharmaceuticals.

In 1960, the Dow Chemical Company purchased the facility using it to develop and manufacture health care and biological products.

The facility was closed in 1976, and the site was demolished and debris was consolidated in a remediation area within the property boundaries.

Remediation activities began in June 1997, which included waste consolidation, landfill capping, methane gas surveying as well as groundwater monitoring.

In 2004, IDEM issued a certificate of completion of work for addressing the hazardous substances.

"I can tell you everyone involved feels great about those aspects of the project," said Robison when asked about environmental concerns.

In May, voters approved a $4.7 million tax increase in a referendum to avoid cutting teachers and programs.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney asked Robison if it's the right time for a real estate deal.

"This is completely separate from the general fund," Robison said. "If we don't do these kinds of things to create new revenue, we'll be dead in the water and have to do more referenda because that's the situation we've been placed in."

Robison hopes the commercial properties at the Dow Chemical site will bring in much needed tax revenue to the community.

"This is going to be a very good thing for decades to come for this community," said Robison.

The redevelopment commission is scheduled to meet Nov. 26 to discuss, but not vote on, the proposal.

"Dow Chemical has worked closely with the Zionsville community throughout the sales process," said Adam Glasser, spokesman for Dow Chemical in a statement to RTV6. "We are pleased the community will be utilizing this great property as it plans to grow its commercial appeal and bring more business to the township."

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