Small parcel opens door for Zionsville to expand

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Zionsville in an annexation fight over Perry Township, finding, in part, that a small parcel of incorporated land gives Zionsville the ability to leap frog Whitestown and lay claim to new territory.

This is one of several annexation battles that have produced differing views between the trial courts and the Indiana Court of Appeals.  In this dispute, Town of Zionsville v. Town of Whitestown and Angel Badillo, 06A01-1601-PL-36, Boone Superior court ruled in favor of Whitestown but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Zionsville used the Government Modernization Act to reorganize the unincorporated areas of Eagle Township and all of Union Township in 2010. Three years later, Whitestown adopted an ordinance to annex part of Perry Township that included the municipality’s wastewater treatment plant. However, in 2014, Perry Township adopted a resolution proposing to reorganize with Zionsville.

Before the Supreme Court, Whitestown argued Zionsville cannot reorganize with Perry Township because the two do not share a common border as required by state statute. The GMA does mandate that two townships reorganizing into one political entity must be adjacent but they can be considered contiguous if they share a strip of land that is at least 150 feet wide.

During oral arguments, the justices seemed skeptical of Zionsville’s assertion that it was contiguous with Perry Township. The two sides submitted several maps of the area with their briefs which led to the Supreme Court to issue an order that the parties “work together to select a single map.”

Zionsville and Whitestown were not able to agree on a single map. Still in reviewing the maps and the statute, the Supreme Court found although Whitestown is located between Zionsville and Perry Township, there is a small rectangular parcel in the southwest corner which Whitestown never incorporated. This piece of land, which has more than 1,300 feet of common boundary with Perry Township, was in the unincorporated section of Eagle Township that was annexed by Zionsville in 2010.

The Supreme Court noted Whitestown implicitly acknowledged the sub-parcel was not part of its municipality.

Whitestown countered that the parcel is not contiguous with the remainder of the reorganized Zionsville and that permitting the reorganization with Perry Township to proceed would open the door for other communities to use a “small, isolated island of land” as a “springboard to extend its municipal boundaries” to areas entirely separate. Indeed several municipalities, including Batesville, Danville, Fortville and North Manchester, submitted amicus briefs warning that allowing Zionsville to reorganize with Perry Township would enable leap frogging across incorporated areas.

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