- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

ELLETTSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Ellettsville is about nine miles from downtown Bloomington, but in many ways, it can feel light years away.

There are no bars lining Ellettsville’s downtown streets. Instead of apartments and houses split between young 20-year-olds, family housing is abundant. It’s a quiet town compared with its neighbor.

But it might not stay that way for long.

Interstate 69 already is cutting its way through Monroe County, and Ellettsville is expected to see spillover from the growth the highway could bring.

Before it does, Ellettsville wants to be ready. And that means change - lots of it - something the town has seemed to avoid for a while.

“I’ve only been on the council for eight months, but it feels like a lot of what we do is take old Band-Aids and put on a nice piece of gauze,” town council member Scott Thomas noted at one meeting.

Ellettsville Town Council members have pushed an aggressive agenda for the town in the last two years: establishing a pawn shop ordinance, even though there are no pawn shops in town right now; working on a new water line from Bloomington to avoid any future supply problems.

Perhaps the most aggressive move is taking projects long on the back burner - a solution for Town Hall, the Heritage Trail, a fix for flooding - and trying to make meaningful progress on them.

Though many things were in the works beforehand, a flood last Christmas seemed to be the spark the town needed.

And in one year, in one town, a lot can change.

Dec. 21, 2013 - it was the fourth or fifth “100-year” flood Ellettsville had experienced in as many years.

Residents reported water standing a foot deep on Vine Street; emergency personnel requested boats from the Department of Natural Resources in case residents needed to be evacuated. Five families were displaced by the flooding, spending Christmas in hotel rooms.

By mid-January, a flood-damaged Town Hall emptied and offices moved to a two-room space in Eagles Landing Mall.

“I think one of the biggest hurdles we had this year led to one of the decisions, which led to other decisions . and that was the flood,” Town Council President Scott Oldham told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/14PXiU9 ).

Flooding and Ellettsville have been almost synonymous throughout the town’s history, since much of the area is in a flood plain.

In the 1940s, according to the story town manager Jim Davis tells, Ellettsville resident Hap Bastin’s house floated down Jack’s Defeat Creek during a flood.

“Ellettsville’s been contending with the flood and will continue dealing with the flood for years to come,” Davis said.

There’s a recommended solution based on a 1994 study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - levees along Jack’s Defeat Creek - but the $3 million price tag placed it out of the realm of feasibility for the most part.

But town officials worked to try to implement some parts of the plan, including dredging Jack’s Defeat Creek to increase the water flow. Though it wasn’t as far down as town officials wanted, the creek was dredged in some areas this fall.

There’s also talk of a new flood mitigation plan, which could fit better into town resources and would take into account problems caused by a growing population.

And the town purchased a property just south of Ind. 46 and Hartstrait Road, known as the Stewart property, which could be used as a water basin or retention area to help control flooding.

But those are small moves, and the problem won’t go away overnight.

In October of 1993, then-fire chief Davis said he was tired of flooding in the Ellettsville area, according to newspaper articles from that year, after more than a foot of water flooded the old fire and police stations. Flooding eventually drove the police and fire departments to drier areas of town.

That’s where Ellettsville is now with its Town Hall, which it hopes to move away from downtown’s flood plain, citing needs for a bigger space and limited resources to keep repairing flood damage.

“Maybe there comes a point in time when maybe you’re done with repairing,” Davis said.

Even if town offices move completely away from the creek and downtown, residents and businesses will remain in the area.

“I think about the poor residents on Vine Street - they’re kind of stuck,” Davis said.

When there’s a problem, there’s never been a go-to person in Ellettsville.

In November 1999, voters chose Patrick Stoffers as their mayor, but they resoundingly voted against the measure that would allow him to take office: to make Ellettsville an official third-class city.

Mayor-less, but still seeking some sort of leadership, the idea of a town manager was floated.

Three years later, the town hired an administrative assistant, which was supposed to grow to a full-time town manager position. It was eliminated the same year.

Just before Christmas last year, Oldham presented the idea again, coincidentally scheduled for discussion the Monday after the flood hit. At the meeting residents latched onto the idea, noting many people had no idea whom to turn to locally for help.

Town council members spent six months putting together all of the pieces to establish the position: the job description, the funding and, finally, the person.

Davis was hired, over complaints that the full council wasn’t present to make the decision, and one of the first tasks he was handed was to figure out what to do with Town Hall, a casualty of the flood.

Staying at Eagles Landing was not a permanent solution, though the town will spend at least a year, and $12,000, in the two rooms it rented.

Town council members passed on the opportunity to buy the building, which was deemed too big for the town’s needs. The South Central Community Action Program has made an offer on the building and hopes to begin teaching Head Start from the former school building in fall 2015.

Now, the town has to work on getting a permanent home for the clerk and utilities departments. The site chosen is a 47.5-acre property off West Maple Grove Road next to the Ellettsville Police Department.

Though much larger than what’s needed for a town hall building, it could be used for future expansion, creating a government complex. There’s also talk about partnering with Richland Senior Citizens Housing for a joint use of the property and the possibility of a park in the area.

It’s also out of the flood plain, meaning town offices are unlikely to move in the future.

Both the Ellettsville Chamber of Commerce and Ellettsville Main Street back the move, especially considering the town will repair the Town Hall building early next year and possibly make it available for use by one of the organizations.

“It’s all about timing,” Davis said. “The right time, the right place - it seems to be the right thing to happen.”

For every start on the Heritage Trail, there were at least 10 stops. Or at least, that’s what it felt like as the community spent about 14 years trying to pull the trail together.

“We’ve kind of had a bumpy road here and there,” said Jeana Kapczynski, president of Ellettsville Main Street.

Ellettsville native Barry Fisher designed a 1.3-mile pedestrian path through town as a senior project at Ball State University in 2000, launching the idea for a trail. The trail will begin near Campbell’s Park and move up the abandoned rail line over Jack’s Defeat Creek to McNeely Street, and eventually link to the Karst Farm Greenway.

But the trail has had funding problems almost from the start.

Though it was awarded about $170,000 in federal grants and Ellettsville Main Street and other organizations managed to raise about $30,000, the project got caught up in changing government regulations and delays. Construction of Ind. 46 and the need to find local money to aid the grants slowed the process as well.

However, the town council remained committed to the project, coming up with enough money to pay for almost all of the first part of the trail.

The town got lucky when the Stewart property came up for sale, too. Not only will it provide an area for possible flood control, but the Heritage Trail will eventually run through the land.

“We’re a lot closer than we’ve ever been,” Kapczynski said. “Nobody’s given up on it, and it’s a lot closer getting into place.”

The town completed purchase of nearly all the property needed for the trail by the end of the year.

The goal is to get Phase I on the ground in 2015, and then worry about Phase II, which will take the trail across Ind. 46 using a footbridge that is expected to cost $250,000.

“The heart’s in it,” Kapczynski said. “They just need to keep plodding along.”

Town Hall has been a pillar of downtown Ellettsville for 50 years. The building it occupied on the corner of Sale and Ind. 46 was a bank before that, and if it is empty, many people wonder what kind of hole it will leave and how to fill it.

Most of Ind. 46, which bisects town, has been built out for all practical purposes, said Diane Critchlow, member of the Ellettsville Chamber of Commerce. Most growth will probably come from convenience or drive-thru businesses that serve residents on their way home or travelers leaving I-69.

“I think the question will be what happens to downtown,” said Valerie DeWar, chamber member who owns Hoosier Family Eye Care with her husband.

The goal is for people to come and to stay in town, whether they are residents or passers-by.

More people are expected to move to Ellettsville as population continues to expand throughout Monroe County. Between 2000 and 2010, the population grew by nearly 1,300, boosting it to 6,378, according to U.S. Census data.

“They feel safe here; they feel it’s a great place to raise children,” Critchlow said. “People come here because of that safety.”

DeWar’s vision sees restaurants that become community centers - places where residents could gather. Critchlow agreed, adding the idea of shared workspaces or a coffee shop would add to the already established downtown community.

The Heritage Trail is expected to aid in the town’s appearance. Kapczynski said there are plans to play up the area’s limestone history along the trail; she also would like to see a limestone museum downtown.

Right now, there’s no distinct entry into town, and both Critchlow and DeWar noted there could be a larger focus on beautification in the area.

“I’ve driven through lots of towns in southern Indiana, and you can tell, oh, that’s a dying town - and we’re not,” DeWar said. “I’m not sure we look as viable as we are.”

Slow, but steady - that’s likely what will be coming for the town in the next 12 months.

“There’s years where you think a lot is happening, and there’s years when it seems mundane. It just comes in cycles,” Davis said. “It’s just kind of like business as usual.”

The flood really started the landslide of projects for the town in 2014. Or at least, the flood accelerated it.

One of the biggest things the town council tried to do was commit to continuing and moving forward with some of the larger projects, whether it took months or years to complete.

“This council is famous for doing something in the immediate and worrying about it 10 years later,” Oldham said at an early December meeting.

The goal now is to keep moving along with those projects they’ve started.

To keep things accountable, the council added regular updates on the Heritage Trail to its agenda this fall; in January, regular updates on flood control will be added.

“We’re not focusing two or three years in advance - we’re looking 10 to 15 years in advance,” Oldham said.

“I think 10 years from now, you’ll see a very different Ellettsville.”


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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