By Sam Elliott
It was an unprecedented year in 2015 for Zionsville as the town swore in its first mayor, but the effects of the change will continue to be felt as the town moves into 2016.
The past year saw Zionsville reorganize its government and add more than 15 square miles and more than 1,000 residents, thanks to merging with Perry Township.
The legal battle between Zionsville and Whitestown — which initially blocked the merger before the Court of Appeals ruled in Zionsville’s favor in June — has been taken to the Indiana Supreme Court, but it’s unknown if the Supreme Court will decide to make a ruling in the case in the new year.
“The way it stands now, (the Indiana Supreme Court hasn’t) taken that case, and the court feels that the reorganization happened in the past, and it already exists, so we’re moving forward,” said Jeff Papa, who was sworn in as the town’s first mayor following the Court of Appeals decision June 2. “That’s our structure unless the Supreme Court tells us otherwise. If they would decide to do that, it might be highly dependent on how they wrote the opinion as to what we would have to do next, but hopefully that doesn’t happen because we’ve seen the outcome be very beneficial for the town, and I think the people of Perry Township are happy with the arrangement.”
Tim Haak, a former president and vice president during his eight years on the town council, will begin 2016 being sworn in as the town’s first full-term elected mayor.
Among Zionsville’s biggest projects for 2016 will be a new base of operations for Haak and his fellow town executives as Zionsville is planning to build a new town hall building to replace the 53-year-old former church currently in use.
Design plans and funding options for the project — expected to total just less than $9 million for the new building on the north end of the town’s seven-acre Oak Street lot — were discussed at the last Town Council meeting of 2015, although nothing is yet finalized. The proposed plans would also prepare the southern portion of the lot for future purchase and development, resulting in tax dollars to help fund the project.
“We’re moving forward, and hopefully we’ll be able to break ground in the spring,” Haak said. “We’re narrowing down our funding options. Our architectural plans are nearing completion, and once the facility is built, it’s really going to make a statement. It’ll reflect the energy in the community. We’ve outgrown our church building. The facilities are outdated. They’re small and just not functional and getting to be extremely expensive to maintain.”
Should Zionsville need a temporary town hall in 2016 before its new building is complete, the new Zion Nature Center — just south of E. 400 S. on S. 875 E. with construction set to begin by the spring — could serve that purpose.
In its main role as the new nature center, the new building will give Zionsville residents more access to outdoor programs.
“It’ll be nice to have a more visible location,” Supt. of Parks and Recreation Matt Dickey said. “The location we have at the school has been nice, … but understandably with issues with the school not wanting the general public to access it during school hours, we’re limited to weekends nine months of the year. It’ll be nice to have something we can have open more to the public and expand our programming offerings that way.”
Following Zionsville’s official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2015, the town will move forward with designing plans for additional bicycle and pedestrian trails. Designing and getting public input on how to utilize donated land in the Vonterra subdivision is also on the parks and recreation radar for the new year, as is a grant seeking funds for erosion maintenance in Starkey Park.
Zionsville residents should be able to take advantage of two new pedestrian and bike paths in 2016 — one along Bloor Lane leading to Zionsville Community High School and another along S. 700 E. between the Royal Run subdivision and Zionsville West Middle School.
Bloor’s eight-foot pathway, two feet off the roadway, is scheduled to be constructed in the summer to avoid school year traffic, while Supt. of Street and Stormwater Services Lance Lantz said he hopes for the S. 700 E. path to be completed by the end of 2016.
The department’s other major project for the new year is the intersection of 96th Street and Zionsville Road, which will receive additional travel lanes going north and south as well as modernized signal equipment. Lantz said construction should begin in the spring and is part of a plan to try and convince the City of Indianapolis to add travel lanes on Zionsville Road south of 96th Street. Lantz said he also hopes the town will one day widen 96th Street going east, and these intersection improvements would play into both those plans, should they be funded in the future.
“For a small community, those are three pretty big projects,” Lantz said. “If they all come to fruition, that would be considered a big success.”