Column: Thoughtful development in Zionsville


Commentary by Jason Plunkett, Zionsville Town Council President, District 2

Have you ever heard corn grow? That’s a real question. 

I grew up on a farm in Western Boone County, where it is more likely that you would see a deer or a coyote than a car. We would walk rows of beans, pull weeds by hand and cool off from the summer heat in nearby creeks.

But alone, near the corn fields, especially in the evening, you’ll hear a crack and a snap above the crickets. That’s the sound of corn growing. 

I was reminded of this while driving country roads around the eastern part of Zionsville. The aromas and sounds of the country are relaxing and offer a sense of place and belonging.

Over the past seven years serving on the Zionsville Town Council, ensuring our fellow sense of place and belonging has been one of my goals. It is part of what makes our town special. A vital component of this strategy has been how we have addressed critical economic development opportunities.

Being good stewards of the resources and geography that we have is what enables us to say yes to “strategic” investment and say no to opportunities that may not make sense. The key to responsible development is vetting. Does a proposed project align with the values and needs of our community? 

Even the most pro-development member of the town council will tell you that our obligation, as public servants, is to ensure development is done the right way. Countless new proposals have come to the town council in recent years, and not all of them have made sense for Zionsville. 

In 2021, a solar farm that would have encompassed more than 1,000 acres of prime farmland was proposed to the town council. If it were not for the thoughtful deliberations of the Zionsville Town Council and the Area Plan Commission, solar panels would have covered productive farmland for decades.

The choice in this scenario was either a solar farm or farmland, nothing else. That’s different from much of the development currently proposed. Much of the farmland in Zionsville is classified as agriculture or residential (R1 and R2) property. Leaving zoned parcels alone does not mean development would stop. Instead, it could take place without input from surrounding property owners.

So what’s the answer? My friend often says, “Nothing is good or bad until compared to the alternative.” The alternatives, in the case of recently approved Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), are zoning changes that require town oversight and the development of standards to allow us to consider traffic flow, infrastructure, pathways and other factors that would impact us all.

The difference, in my mind, is that these recent PUDs have utilities or utility access. I am not a supporter of leapfrog development, and I do not think that government overreach by way of a form-based code is the answer either. Everyone who moves here moves here for a reason, whether it be our elite schools, parks, pathways or shops. 

We cannot survive without working together and being strategic with our development efforts. We can protect our way of life without shutting the door behind us. We must listen to development proposals, understand the intricacies and leverage our resources to gain the best community partners possible. 

We should accept the highest quality business while preserving our incredible, quaint, quiet and lovely town. We must require developers to install pathways and the top amenities available and always consider the alternative.

Most importantly, we should never forget who we are and what we believe and always stop and listen to the corn grow.