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Hancock County News

Proposed Fortville riverfront district stays on agenda until June

After months of questions and discussions, the Fortville Town Council has pumped the brakes on the implementation of a riverfront district in town.  Earlier this month, officials approved first reading of the district, but recently, the town tabled the measure until June.

“We’re in no big hurry. There’s no development yet,” councilman Fritz Fentz said before officials opted to take the measure up at the June 15 meeting.

Indiana law allows municipalities to create a riverfront development district within a redevelopment area. While there is no river in Fortville, officials are using parts of a creek and ditches throughout town for the distinction. The state does have a stipulation that districts have to be within 1,500 feet of a waterway, however, what constitutes as a waterway is open to interpretation.

On May 4, the council picked back up with the discussions as Fortville’s planning and building director, Adam Zaklikowski, reminded council the primary reason for seeking the riverfront district was to allow for additional alcohol permits throughout town. Council voted in favor of first reading, but not before a no vote by councilman Robert Holland and plenty of discussion.

“We are almost at max capacity, and this is a legal way to do it,” Zaklikowski said.

There are three kinds of permits available to restaurants – beer, beer and wine and beer, wine and spirits. Fortville is currently at its max on permits, which are not transferable and do not allow for carryout.

The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, may, upon recommendation of the town, issue a non-transferrable permit to the proprietor of a restaurant or event venue for the purpose of selling alcoholic beverages within the boundaries of a riverfront development district.

The Fortville Redevelopment Commission determined the creation of the district will help remove barriers to development in the downtown business district. The riverfront district will operate in Fortville’s TIF district, which spans along much of Broadway Street and Maple Street/Fortville Pike. The RDC oversees the TIF district.

Under the ordinance, the RDC shall determine if an applicant will receive a letter requesting the ATC’s approval through several steps. Those steps include: the proprietor submitting a letter of request to the RDC explaining the need for the permit, the type of business and the square footage of the building. The RDC will also conduct a public hearing and a notice shall be posted on the site a minimum of 10 days in advance of the hearing. Furthermore, in making its decision of approval or denial, the RDC will consider the proprietor’s reputation and business plan, if the business is focused on a dining and/or entertainment experience rather an alcohol-based consumption experience and whether the business will be detrimental to nearby property values. Finally, the business will further the intent of perpetuating Fortville as an enjoyable, mixed use small town atmosphere for residents and visitors alike and can draw new business activity to the town, be located within the TIF district, the RDC shall provide approval to the proprietor and ATC and annual renewals and complaints shall be reviewed by the RDC. The ATC will automatically renew a permit if there is no notification from the RDC. Should a complaint be filed, the RDC will hold a public hearing to discuss the complaint with the permit holder and remonstrators, and will notify the ATC of its findings.

For Holland, the fact that final approval rested with the RDC and not the Fortville Town Council was a sticking point and the reason for his no vote.

“I really feel like final approval of this should come through the council. I have no issue with the RDC looking at this, and, if there is something not right, if they want to go to the petitioner, I am okay with that. Since this is brand new, I really want council to have the final say on it,” Holland said.
Scott Meyer, a member of the RDC, told Holland and council the RDC’s involvement gives the process a sense of being out of any realm of political controversy.

“The RDC all agreed this needs to be a one visit, one stop, one answer place for the person to come. It has nothing to do with any of the council members. I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of these that come to the RDC. I don’t think we are looking at 15-20 or even 10 of these opportunities to present themselves. We are trying to make it as easy as possible and take politics out of it,” Meyer said.

Council member Libby Wyatt stated her main concern was knowledge of what was happening in town.

Holland agreed, asking what would happen if council was not in favor of something and the RDC is, what would happen next and vice versa.

“I don’t think anyone will go unheard. If the full RDC is in favor, that will be the decision,” Meyer said.
Holland countered by saying he still believed the final decision should be with the council, stating as the ordinance is current written, there is no veto power for the council.

“If that’s your concern, then you’ll have to vote RDC out. If you want final say, then you should have only say. It is an issue either way but it is a matter of working together,” Meyer said.