Making progress: Redevelopment commission reports on year

Brown County Redevelopment Commission members are surprised by how many directions they’ve gone this year, and they believe they’re making progress to help the community prosper.

President Dave Redding gave a quarterly report at the RDC meeting Oct. 17 and to the Brown County Commissioners on Oct. 19.

He’s encouraged by offers of help he’s received from a consulting group for planning, and potential partnerships with Brown County Schools and Indianapolis-based Eleven Fifty Group, which teaches coding to fill high-tech jobs.

The commission has plans for a website that will showcase Brown County to possible residents and business developers and direct them to community leaders who could help them make that leap.

Members have been attending meetings of other boards and commissions that tie into redevelopment, such as the Brown County Regional Sewer District, town council, town redevelopment commission and planning and zoning boards. They said they haven’t seen this level of cooperation and coordination before.

They’re also impressed with the qualifications of the candidates who have been stepping up to take leadership roles on boards and to offer their services, Redding said.

One success they hope to announce soon is movement on the Broadband Task Force. Redding said an expansion project is in the works that will connect 168 new households with broadband. He said right-of-way issues are causing some delays, so he didn’t want to go into specifics yet about where or when expansion would take place.

Task force Chairman Mike Laros said waiting for companies to decide to run high-speed Internet here is not a quick enough solution.

“We’ll have to look at interim solutions in rural areas fairly soon,” Laros said. “If we relied on supply and demand, we’re talking three to five years, and that’s three to five years of not serving the community and losing potentially a of lot of economic development, particularly that could help the schools.”

Mapping where infrastructure such as Internet, sewer and water is available or could become available is another project the commission is working on — an “is” map, Redding called it. He said that would help house-hunters and potential developers better understand the feasibility of being successful here.

The RDC also has been leading discussions about developing affordable — not necessarily “low-income” — housing. Members are discussing various ways to appeal to young families with children who could add to the workforce tax base and to the county’s schools, which need more students to shore up the budget.

In addition to housing inventory, task force member Keith Baker said financing and down payments are hurdles they need help clearing.

Redding said analysis is underway about what rules or mindsets could be changed or incentives offered to free up more Brown County land. Large tracts are tied up in limited liability corporations, and no one seems interested in changing that, he said — “not saying that’s wrong, but we’re in an uphill position to find areas that could potentially be considered for commercial or residential development,” he said.

Redding, who lost his bid for re-election to the county council in the primary, said his time on the RDC is growing short, since he represented the council. He asked the county commissioners for a work session to talk about how to maintain continuity on the board so momentum can keep going.

Sewer project approaching critical stage

Brown County Regional Sewer District members feel like they’re moving in the right direction, too.

Last week, the Brown County Commissioners agreed to write a letter supporting the district board’s plans to expand sewer service to the Bean Blossom area. Town Manager Scott Rudd planned to ask the town council to do the same, and Bean Blossom resident and county commissioner Diana Biddle said she’d work on one on behalf of the Bean Blossom community.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission President Dave Redding said the district board is getting close to approaching agencies to finance the sewer expansion project. Letters endorsing and supporting the project were one suggestion to strengthen the application.

Sewer board President Evan Werling said the board has been trying without success to get records of scientific data documenting septic failure in the Bean Blossom area, but had been unable to do so.

Redding told the county commissioners that documentation — such as by going door to door — is still something that could be gathered, but it would slow down the project. He said he thought the letters may substitute for now.

Sewer board members have been talking about possibly serving Freeman Ridge and Greasy Creek Road in addition to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake.

How the sewage would be treated — by a standalone plant or by running it to Nashville’s plant — hasn’t been decided. The town and sewer board are still working through questions about the rate, Rudd said.

Those details and what financing could be available are critical to deciding whether or not the project is doable, board members said.

“We’re hoping that the citizens along the route, the majority of them are happy with this,” said sewer board member Terry Schultz. “That’s our concern, that if you don’t have proof that they need this sewer, you could become one of the most hated people in the county.”

However, if septics are failing and there is no sewer option, residents could lose the investment they’ve made in their homes if they’re unable to sell them, said commissioner Dave Anderson.

Redding said a project update should be available by the November sewer board meeting.

Helmsburg community discussion this week

HELMSBURG — All are welcome at a discussion at the Brown County Community Church Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. to identify some the next steps to help accelerate improvements for Helmsburg.

The Brown County Redevelopment Commission is involved, as well as Helmsburg residents Cindy Steele and Harrietta Weddle.

“There is currently a critical mass of vacant properties in Helmsburg — some currently on the market, some soon to be for sale, and others potentially for sale — that could be used for businesses or homes,” Steele said.

Some properties are already zoned commercial with access to sewers and broadband Internet, she said.

Redevelopment commission members said they believe Helmsburg might be an area with significant and immediate opportunities.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.