A Small Town Growing:
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted and JJ Kaplan
The town of Zionsville has seen many monumental changes over the last two decades, including a growing population and an expanded footprint. One of the more impactful changes happened in recent years when the town swore in its first mayor, Jeff Papa, in 2015.
After much controversy, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the reorganization plan with Zionsville and Perry Township should be allowed, and this gave the town the ability to have its first mayor.
Zionsville and Whitestown had been in the courts for nearly a year regarding the legality of the reorganization plan before the decision from the appellate court came down. Boone County Superior Court II Judge Becky McClure, now retired, ruled in Whitestown’s favor before Zionsville won on appeal.
A year after Papa was sworn in on an interim basis as the first mayor, Tim Haak, a lifelong resident, was sworn in as the second mayor of Zionsville.
“When I came onto the Zionsville Town Council, the position and office of Mayor did not exist,” Haak said. “There was no way that I ever thought that I would eventually become the Mayor of Zionsville. The position and I just happened to find one another. I have been very active and have enjoyed being on the council, so when the opportunity arose to do this job on a full-time basis, I jumped to take it.”
Haak was first elected to the town council in 2008. He has served on multiple boards, such as the safety board and board of police commissioners, and other committees like the infrastructure committee, economic development committee and some of the planning committees that have focused on updating the town’s transportation and master sewer plans.
We sat down with Mayor Haak and discussed how the town has evolved from his perspective as a resident, councilman and now as mayor and what projects lay ahead for the town in the next decade and beyond.
“Nearly 10 years ago, a group of us on the council saw that the development pressure on the Northwest side of Indy was going to come faster than everybody had thought, and Zionsville was not prepared,” Haak said. “There were some decisions that were being made at that time that were going to be to the detriment of Zionsville.” Haak cited the purchase of the Indianapolis Executive Airport by Hamilton County in 2002 as an example of a missed opportunity for the town of Zionsville. “When I first came onto the council in 2008, things were changing, and [the council] didn’t want to be caught sleeping at the wheel.”
Haak and his fellow council members had to contend with the newly-passed property tax caps in 2008 while maintaining a business-friendly culture in Zionsville.
“We strived then as we continue to do now to provide businesses with the tools to succeed here,” Haak emphasized. “We instituted the micro-loan and façade grant programs, and we’re still in the midst of a very robust infrastructure improvement initiative with paving, stormwater, etc. We reinstalled most of the sidewalks on Main Street. One year, we completely redid the sidewalks on the west side of the street. The town paid for it. Though not all of the sections are ours, we can’t draw a line where the sidewalk belongs to the town and where it becomes the property owners. It changes with every parcel.”
Haak said he has seen many cycles of the local businesses over the years and many uses of the buildings that have stood in the town for a century change with those businesses. He shared his memories of businesses from the past 20 years that were some of the town’s most notable destinations.
“I remember the Hardee’s that once stood on the corner of Main and Sycamore where Old National Bank stands today,” he recalled. “Where Elm Street Green is, there was a butcher shop, Jones Meat Market, where they processed and prepared everything onsite. The Donut Den was a popular hangout, and McKamey’s was your pharmacy and convenience store. It was your coffee shop in the morning and where you got your lunch. Cheri’s [McKamey] spinach melt and grilled cheeses were popular favorites. I also remember Claghorn Custom Flooring used to be a grain elevator and seed and feed store. People could also pick up the salt for their water softeners there too.”
Longtime residents will remember the Adam’s Rib restaurant, a destination location back in its day. “You could order zebra, shark and lion off the menu,” Haak said. “My brother ordered a trout that came with the head on it. Way before our time, they used to make wagon wheels and buggies at The Friendly, and now they make tenderloins. The businesses on Main Street have evolved over the years, and Main Street doesn’t close at 5 p.m. anymore. Businesses like the Salty Cowboy and Rush on Main have changed that culture. There are many nights, especially when the weather’s favorable, that it’s just as busy at 7:30 p.m. as it is at 1:30 p.m. in downtown Zionsville.”
He emphasized that with change and growth, the town has always maintained a “small town” feel and believes that it will continue to in the future decades. “Whether it’s a town of 2,500 or 25,000, it still feels like a small town. Our trail system comes right into downtown, connecting the neighborhoods that we’ve done a great job maintaining over the years,” he said. “Colony Woods is a prime example. It’s a highly sought-after neighborhood and is cycling now to younger families with children moving in, some who are buying their parents’ homes and the parents are opting to stay in Zionsville. We have developed products for the residents who are downsizing, so they can stay in town and be close their families and/or continue to enjoy the town’s amenities that they become accustomed to.”
When asked about the past, present and future developments, the mayor shared his knowledge and insights. “Some will remember what was originally the Chevrolet dealership, and then the Love Furniture building is now a multi-tenant building in South Village. As a result of South Village being developed, residents and employees who work in town are enjoying the businesses that have located there. It all relates to the realignment of 106th which set the stage for all of this.”
Haak continued, “In the heart of Zionsville, you’ll see more of the same. The CITGO property will eventually be redeveloped. There are areas of town that are already being redeveloped, such as the mobile home park. We’ll see Michigan Road and 146th Street developed. In another 20 years, the area around the airport will have been developed as well.”
In addition to the improvements to Zionsville Road, Ford Road and 106th Street, the mayor said the town will be building a north/south connector in 2019, which is going to go from the Enclave north, straight through the Johnson property to the South 875 East intersection. The natural alignment goes around the existing residential structures which will get bermed and landscaped. The original plan for this road was conceived in 1983.
“The housing developments in that area won’t have to come through town to come in and out,” Haak said. “Residents will be able to use the new road and then disperse. The new road will take a lot of pressure off of Ford Road, especially around the Boone village area.”
He continued, “We are being careful and thoughtful about our planning. When people arrive in the heart of Zionsville, they will know that they’re here by the look and feel of it and not just by the welcome sign. Eventually, one day when the Pittman property along Michigan Road and Sycamore is developed, it will be a new gateway into Zionsville. The Pittmans were very careful to plan it that way.”