Sheridan makes plans to control 'destiny' and keep Westfield expansion at bay

Big changes coming to northern Hamilton County have leaders in the town of Sheridan worried they’ll get left behind.

A $40-plus million Hamilton County project to bring water and sewer lines beyond 216th Street along US 31 promises to spur commercial and residential development, bolstering fears in Sheridan that Westfield will try to annex land in Adams Township to boost to its economy.

To fortify against that possibility Sheridan and Adams Township leaders have struck on a potential bulwark: expand Sheridan’s boundaries to the planned utility area.

“We want to protect our identity and maintain local control over the homes and make sure our schools aren't hurt,” said Adams Township Trustee Michelle Junkins. “I would prefer Westfield stay in its borders. Borders should be borders.”

The concerns are not without merit. Westfield has already annexed a large piece of property just south of the Adams Township line. And the land owner, Shear Property Group, which builds commercial buildings, had expressed interest in Westfield annexing more than 33 acres of its land just across 216th Street in Adams Township, several officials said.

Banners are attached to light posts in downtown Sheridan celebrating 100 years of homecomings.
Banners are attached to light posts in downtown Sheridan celebrating 100 years of homecomings.

Sheridan leaders said if Westfield begins annexing land they would control the pace and density of future development, which could have deleterious trickle-down consequences for Adams Township government services.

For example, residents in the sure-to-come housing developments will be required to send their children to schools in the Sheridan Schools Corp. If Westfield had control of the area it could approve residential projects without consideration of school crowding and budget, making it difficult for the district to adjust accordingly.

"The strain on our schools alone will be too much for most of the community to handle, at a certain point," Sheridan Town Councilor Daniel Bragg said.

The utilities being installed in the rural area will replace septic tanks and wells and allow developers to build at a much lower cost. At the same time, the Indiana Department of Transportation is upgrading US 31 to an expressway-style corridor that could also bolster growth.

Previously Utility hook-up will prime U.S. 31 in northern Hamilton County for development

A joint resolution recently passed by Sheridan and Adams Township to merge into one government sets in motion a series of steps that would expand Sheridan’s boundaries to those of the larger township, including to US 31.

The consolidation will require a fiscal impact study, approval by state agencies, and separate votes of 51% by Sheridan and township residents to become law.

The new boundaries, if approved, would prevent Westfield from annexing what is now unincorporated Adams Township. It would also give Sheridan zoning and planning control over the area.

“That is what we are trying to preserve here,” Bragg said. “The Adams Township board and the Sheridan Town Council aim to chart a governmental path that forever preserves, protects, and prepares Sheridan for the future.”

Words stir concern

The Westfield City Council in March 2022, at the request of Shear Property Group, annexed a chunk of its land on the South Side of 216th Street at U.S. 31. The company planned an industrial park in Washington Westfield Township that was to be the first phase of the development, according to planning documents. The second phase would be on 33 acres north of 216th Street in Adams Township, part of the area now receiving utilities.

Andrew Wert, a land use expert with Church Church Hittle & Antrim Shear, which represents Shear Property Group, said the annexation application has sat idle for more than a year but did not know why. He said the company had withdrawn its application for a zoning change to industrial use, however.

A representative of Shear could not be reached for comment.

Sheridan officials were also alarmed by a quote attributed to Scott Willis, the unchallenged candidate for Westfield mayor, in which he said he wanted to annex land all the way to Boone County.

But Willis said last week the city has no plans to annex land on the U.S. 31 corridor and the inquiry by Shear about further annexation never advanced.

“We have zero plans to do that,” he said. “I absolutely want Westfield to grow but within the Westfield Washington boundaries.”

Willis said he doesn’t recall making the comments about wanting to expand to Boone County but said the city has already done so on its southern edge, which is what he might have been referring to.

“I talk to a lot of people every day,” said Willis, who owns commercial property in Sheridan. “I apologize if I said anything to offend Sheridan. If they want to get worked up about it let them.”

The utility expansion will start at Bakers Corner at 236th Street and expand 42 square miles, from 216th to 296th streets. The boundaries extend 2 miles west of US 31 to Spring Mill and Six Points roads and 3 miles east of US 31 to Devaney and Cammack roads.

Sheridan, a town of about 3,000 residents is 5 miles west of Bakers Corner near the Boone County border and about 7 miles north of Westfield.

Hamilton County is extending utilities along U.S. 31 to the north.
Hamilton County is extending utilities along U.S. 31 to the north.

Sheridan leaders said any Westfield encroachment would thwart its own plans to grow.

“It would certainly harm the economic future of Sheridan,” Bragg said.  “If Sheridan were to get completely cut off from 31, we would feel choked down."

Schools, road stress

County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said the long-term plan for Sheridan has always been to expand east toward US 31 and for Cicero to expand west to the thoroughfare.

“I don’t know if it's paranoia but there has always been a concern about annexation” from Westfield, said Heirbrandt. “Now that development is going to come (Sheridan) want to control a piece of the pie."

Along with the possible pressure put on schools by rapid growth, Sheridan legal consultant Todd Burtron said Adams Township parks and roads would see more use and require more maintenance.

“This is really about controlling your own destiny,” said Burtron, of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, who worked for Westfield for 22 years.

Scott Wilson, owner of Wilson Farm Market at 256th Street and US 31, said any annexation attempts by Westfield would be a mistake.

“I don’t think they want to start that fight,” he said. “It would be viewed as a land grab for development and wouldn’t go pleasantly. It would be fought tooth and nail.”

Wilson is already dealing with growth on another front; he recently warded off a plan by the INDOT to seize and demolish his property by eminent domain so it could build a cul-de-sac at the 256th/U.S. 31 intersection and eliminate passage across the thoroughfare.

“We have all known change is coming to this part of the Hamilton County,” Wilson said. “We’d just like to control some of the progress.”

Call IndyStar reporter John Tuohy at 317-444-6418 or email him at Follow him on Facebook and X/Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Small town Indiana fears takeover from Westfield expansion