Rezone of 44.5 acres in Gnaw Bone OK’d; Nearby property seeks same rezone, discussion tabled til December

The for sale sign at Walden Ridge Campground, marking that 44.5 acres are available for purchase. A rezone of the property from Residential 1 to General Business was recently approved by the Brown County Area Plan Commission and the Brown County Commissioners. Abigail Youmans | The Democrat

GNAW BONE — Nearly 22 years ago, 75 Gnaw Bone residents came together and opposed the rezoning request for a 44.5-acre piece of land from industrial to planned unit development (PUD).

The petitioner had planned for a 64-unit, high density, manufactured home community.

The Brown County Area Plan Commission gave a negative recommendation for the request to Brown County Commissioners, which they rejected at the time.

Last month, the same piece of land was authorized for a rezone from Residential 1 (R1) to General Business (GB) by the same governing boards.

The new plans are for a 51-unit subdivision — Harmony Cove — geared toward empty nesters.

At the Oct. 25 APC meeting, Chris Tompkins represented the buyers of the property, John Munro and Lucinda Kingston, whom he said he has known for 20 years.

Tompkins was raised in Indiana but moved away for work. He came back four years ago to take care of his aging parents and sister.

Tompkins told the APC that he has always loved the Brown County area and had been speaking with the owners about creating a small development in the county.

He has had a hand in major real estate developments like hotels, casinos and the hospitality industry, specializing in senior communities.

The idea for Harmony Cove subdivision came when they found the property on State Road 46 East, across from the Away A Day Campground.

Harmony Cove is intended to be a community that targets residents 55-years-old and older, or “empty nesters.”

The 44.5-acre property will be parceled into lots ranging from a quarter to one acre, housing two-bedroom, two-bathroom homes no bigger than 1,400 square feet.

A home just north of State Road 46 East on the site of Walden Ridge Campground, which developers hope to turn into Harmony Cove, a subdivision geared towards empty nesters. A rezone of the property from Residential 1 to General Business was recently approved by the Brown County Area Plan Commission and the Brown County Commissioners. Abigail Youmans | The Democrat

The roads in the subdivision, Tompkins said, will be gravel.

“It desires to have a very intimate community, be a nature preserve-like setting,” Tompkins told the commission.

“I do not want to disrupt the environment. I like the fact that it’s heavily wooded. I like the fact that the way we’ve got it designed right now there will be a perimeter all around the property, on 90% of it so it stays very natural.”

They are targeting buyers to build personal weekend retreats or homes for snowbirds, and permanent residences as well.

Tompkins himself plans on moving into the subdivision with his sister.

The subdivision will also be a homeowners association (HOA), with covenant documents, restrictions on square footage, no parking for boats or recreational vehicles and requirements for exterior design.

Tompkins is opposed to the short-term or Airbnb usage of the properties and it will not be allowed in the HOA, he said.

He is, however, not opposed to having investors purchase homes.

“Because it’s such a small development, it’s meant to be intimate, it’s meant to be small homes. We’re not targeting people who are worried about getting a mortgage, they’re pretty much going to pay cash,” he said.

The homes will be connected to Gnaw Bone Regional Sewer District

APC member Andy Voils said he believes that of the areas in Brown County that could use more development, Gnaw Bone is one of two that came to his mind. The other is Helmsburg.

APC member Kara Hammes said that she was disappointed to see the two-bedroom maximum.

“That makes it not feasible for small families, which is something we’re in desperate need of here,” she said.

Changing the zoning from residential 1 (R1) to general business (GB), Hammes said that other uses would be permitted, including the elimination of tourist home restrictions and allowing of different lot sizes.

“Once it’s GB it’s out of our hands, but it’s in an area with a lot of other (businesses),” she said.

Tompkins said the rezone in his opinion was appropriate in the area.

Initially Tompkins said that the short-term rentals in the community would be allowed on a first come, first serve basis, with up to 20 percent of the homes being allowed to be short-term rentals.

“I appreciate that (long term housing) is the intended purpose, but the GB just opens up other things,” Hammes said.

“You say people aren’t looking to buy (tourist homes), but I guarantee if there were no (short term rental) restrictions or you felt like you couldn’t impose them as the HOA, somebody would buy ten lots and build ten tourist homes.”

Tompkins said future residents may need to for whatever reason, but that he was not looking to have “Airbnbs left, right and center.”

“I want to build a community,” he said.

Short-term rentals, Planning and Zoning Director Kayla Richardson said, are rented to tenants for 30 days or less.

Hammes said that restriction was more in line with the APC vision.

“There are people looking for month-to-month rentals, and there’s a lack of long-term rental properties here as well,” she said.

APC member Jane Gore said that would cover the prevention of tourist homes, which are rented for a weekend or week.

“There’s a huge distinction between tourist rentals and rentals. … It’s the short term, tourist rental designation that we want to avoid at all costs,” she said.

Tompkins agreed and said he was “totally comfortable” with the limitations and the APC voted unanimously to recommend the rezone request to county commissioners.

Commissioners approved the request at their Nov. 2 meeting.

More Gnaw Bone development?

Another petitioner approached the APC in November to rezone 37 acres from R1 to GB, also in Gnaw Bone.

This request, however, was tabled by the commission.

The petitioner, Jeb Banner, purchased the acreage adjacent to Brown County Winery in Gnaw Bone, with plans to build a 2,000-square-foot event center and several cabins.

Banner told the APC to think of a family reunion or business retreat in the woods.

”Our desire is to preserve as much of the woods as possible, big reason we bought the property was to keep the woods preserve, not cut down trees,” he said.

Banner purchased the property in January of 2021 and said he hopes to have one cabin developed in 2023 and maybe three or four spread across the top ridge on the property.

He shared that all the utilities — water, gas and electric — had visited the property and said there would be access.

A letter from Gnaw Bone Regional Sewer District (GBRSD) President Dave Hess was included in the staff report.

The letter was dated May of 2021 and said that there was capacity at the sewer treatment plant to add on more hook-ups in the Gnaw Bone area.

Banner said that he and Hess had not discussed volume.

“Right now the thinking is let’s use sewer and get it hooked up,” Banner said.

”We really don’t want the septic leaking into the water or anything like that.”

Hammes said that hearing from Chris Tompkins of Harmony Cove in October, the APC knew that project would take GBRSD to capacity.

“I’m concerned this statement (from Hess) may no longer be true based on (GBRSD’s) capacity for additional projects coming on,” she said.

Soil samples that Banner provided showed that a septic system could be approved there, she added.

Banner said he was not opposed to septic, but the preference was sewer. He said he had not spoken to Hess since obtaining the letter in 2021.

Hammes said that though there are other business-zoned properties in Gnaw Bone, with most concentrated along State Road 46 East.

The 37 acres extends further back from the road, she said, and in turn borders more lots that are residential.

Hess was present at the meeting and told the APC that he does not remember the letter, but believed that at the time it was being purchased by a different party who intended to put in one building.

“Now (there is) a 50-unit housing (addition) going in, we just put 92 campsites in, we’ve got another winery that’s committed, another house and another duplex,” he said.

Gore asked if GBRSD would start rejecting or denying applicants wanting to connect to the system.

Hess said he did not know.

If the property can sustain septic, Banner said he was “happy” to pursue that option.

“We’re more interested in the ability to have more than one property up there,” he said.

“We were advised that General Business made the most sense for that.”

Voils said the property was “asking to be developed,” but the commission wanted to make sure it was doing it the best way possible.

“Turning 37 acres of woods to general business isn’t something we do lightly. Oftentimes it’ll never come back, it’ll never be ‘just woods,’ again,” he said.

He then suggested Planned Unit Development as an alternative zoning.

“It would allow us to make sure that as those houses go in there’s a plan for it,” he said.

“I’m a huge proponent for Gnaw Bone, I’d love to see growth there, I’d love to see it built up … I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t know that rezoning 37 acres into GB being the best way for the county to do that.”

A rezone to GB, APC member Randy Jones added, is something the commission doesn’t take lightly because it’ll open the entire 37 acres up to other potential development in perpetuity.

Banner said a total of 10 of the 37 acres would likely be developed.

With pursuing septic systems as an option, local and state health departments would need to be involved in the planning, Jones said.

“I’d like to see a resubmittal of what you’d like to have done, reduce the footprint in terms of total amount (of land developed). I don’t think it takes much (land) to do what you want to do or are requesting to do. Then I think you have some homework you’re going to have to do on onsite septic systems.”

The petition was tabled and will be revisited at the next APC meeting in December.

‘Hard to find’

Currently there are 96 accounts that Gnaw Bone Regional Sewer District (GBRSD) serves, but not all are single family residences.

With duplexes, apartments and two RV campgrounds, the actual number of people, GBRSD President Dave Hess said, cannot be counted.

Hess’ own concern at bringing on more customers is due to the fact that the entire system was installed incorrectly, he said.

Because of this there are leaks in the system, which is a vacuum system that sucks in air, reducing the capacity of the plant.

The stipulation with adding the proposed Harmony Cove units is that they will fix problems with leakage, Hess said.

The capacity of GBRSD is 50,000 gallons per day, with Indiana Department of Environmental Management requiring the district to stay 10% under capacity, or at 45,000 gallons per day.

Normally, Hess said, they run about 36,000 gallons per day, and as high as 55,000 when it rains.

IDEM allows the overage when it rains, Hess said, as long as the maximum flow out of the plant as long as it doesn’t exceed the waste contamination into the creek.

In order to be able to handle more customers a new plant would be needed, Hess said.

The cost for a new plant would be about $900,000. A new digester would also help, he said, which is about $600,000.

“We’d like to have more customers to divide (the cost) among more people. We fought very hard to keep the cost down to $60 per month,” Hess said.

They had to raise the price not too long ago, Hess said, because they are down about $6,000 to $7,000 every month in nonpayment.

“We’ve been trying to get grants, but we can’t get anybody who can talk to us,” he said.

“We’re just a volunteer board.”

They’re also a working board, with members being able to work on sewer.

“We could use another board member, this is a working board. It’s going to have to be somebody that can work on sewer. That’s hard to find.”