A Marion County judge has stopped an annexation by the town of Brownsburg, finding that while key parts of Indiana’s annexation statute are vague, the municipality did not show the area to be annexed had an urban character nor that it was needed for future development.
Special Judge Heather Welch of Marion Superior Court Civil Division issued the order Nov. 16 following a bench trial that was held in September. She ruled the annexation cannot proceed because Brownsburg did not meet requirements of Indiana Code 36-4-3-13(b) and (c).
The statute provisions require the land to be annexed be at least 60 percent subdivided and be set for development in the “reasonably near future.” However, in a footnote, Welch pointed out the law does not define “subdivision” or “reasonably near future.” Clearly defining these terms, she wrote, would not only make the statute more precise but also promote uniformity in judicial decisions and assist counsel in knowing the exact criteria.
Brownsburg adopted an ordinance in July 2013 to annex 4,400 acres north of the community. Residents in the targeted area formed Fight Against Brownsburg Annexation and remonstrated. The town maintained the land is needed for the extension of the Ronald Reagan Parkway as well as for other road improvements. However, the remonstrators testified the purpose of the annexation is to increase tax revenues.
Taking a closer look at the statute’s subdivision requirement, the court noted Brownsburg presented six different methods for calculating the subdivisions but that the town was exempting some portions of the agricultural areas.
Relying on precedent from past annexation battles, Welch held the legislative intent of the annexation statute was for the total actual acreage of the area to be considered. Accordingly, she found only 17.54 percent of the annexation territory was subdivided.
Also, Welch concluded a substantial portion of the annexation area is not needed and the small sections that may be used will likely not be developed for at least another five to 15 years. Specifically, no timeline has been established for future construction on the Ronald Reagan Parkway and current plans do not include Brownsburg. In addition, the school corporation has no plans for future development, and proposals for residential development have been rejected by the Town of Brownsburg Zoning Board because of problems with soil drainage.
With the annexation stopped, the remonstrators are collecting donations to pay for legal fees and waiting to see if the town appeals.
A spokesperson with the town pointed to a statement posted on Brownsburg's website Friday and said the town has no further comment. The statement reads, "The Town received the court’s order regarding the North Annexation Area at approximately 4:00pm on Wednesday, November 16th. Since it was received late in the day, we have not yet had an opportunity to fully review the opinion with our attorneys, nor discuss the matter with the Town Council. We will attempt to meet soon with the Council and the Town’s attorneys to consider our options, and will have further comment after that time.”
The case is Fight Against Brownsburg Annexation, et al. v. Town of Brownsburg, Indiana, et al., 32D02-1310-PL-109.