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John Stehr headshot

Source: (PHOTO: Friends of John Stehr)

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Zionsville’s new mayor on Thursday said the Boone County town needs to attract commercial growth to ensure it remains economically viable.

Republican John Stehr began his term on Monday, the first day for all municipal elected officials in Indiana. Stehr faced no opposition in the November general election, so he said he began working on his transition in July. He has spent the past few days meeting with town employees and department heads to discuss their needs.

Stehr’s campaign platform included sustainable development. Asked for details, he said Zionsville’s tax base relies too heavily on residential property taxes. He said he wants to bring in more commercial development to take pressure off of homeowners. As an example, Stehr said he would like to redevelop the site of an old gas station at the corner of Sycamore and Main, just before the southern entrance to the Brick Street district. He said new development there would be a way to draw more people into the downtown.

“I think we all agree that (downtown) is the heart and soul of town. And if the heart’s not beating, if the soul’s not there, the town is going to die,” he said.

To guide the development he has in mind, Stehr said one of his first priorities will be to develop a new comprehensive plan. Zionsville’s current comprehensive plan, a document that guides the town’s overall growth and development, was adopted in October 2003. Stehr said developing a good comprehensive plan is one of the most important things a municipal government can do.

“I think we need to think about that now, while we’re clear-headed and everything isn’t coming at us like it’s rushing out of a fire hose,” he said.

Zionsville sits about 15 miles southeast of the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, the high-tech research park planned for the area around the Boone County city. Stehr said the district represents a major economic opportunity for Zionsville and for Boone County. He said any company drawn to the park will need services such as accounting and logistics. Anyone who moves to the area to work for a LEAP District tenant will need places to eat and shop. As for the controversy surrounding the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s selection of the site and its now-paused proposal to bring in water from Tippecanoe County, Stehr said he hopes those issues are worked out in a way that’s acceptable to people living along the LEAP District’s corridor.

In the more immediate term, Stehr said a full audit of the city’s financial controls is underway. He said he hopes the audit helps improve the town’s credit rating, which would make it both cheaper and easier for the town to borrow money if needed. He also said he wants to “lower the temperature” on the town’s politics. Stehr said he has appointed a mix of both Republicans and Democrats to the town’s boards and commissions. He also said he wants to remain focused on delivering services and stay out of social issues.

Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau compiled by Indiana University say Zionsville had nearly 32,000 residents on July 1, 2022.