Shelbyville’s loophole

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By Brent Schanding

Middleton Heights is a network of four small streets tucked conspicuously off West U.S. 60 just west of Shelbyville. Bound by Robin Road and Peachtree Street, it’s fully engulfed by city-maintained developments.

But here’s the literal loophole:

MIddleton Heights was never annexed into Shelbyville, allowing homeowners in this unincorporated area to evade city property taxes for nearly 60 years.

Many maps outlining the city boundaries show Middleton Heights as a gray hole, surrounded by a grid of streets and other development.

That doesn’t bother many residents at all––and could actually be an attraction for some looking to locate there.

"The folks I know that live out there now are very happy. It's kind of a mixture of different age groups," said Joan Hundley, a realtor with Torrey Smith Realty Co. in Shelbyville. "There's a resurgence of younger, first-time home buyers going in there."

Most homes can still be bought for less than $100,000, Hundley said. Those buyers avoid paying as much as $2,750 each year in city real estate taxes.

“We have seen tremendous changes,” said Dot Stivers, a longtime resident who built a house on Lakeside Drive with her husband, Luther, in 1953.

They’ve seen the neighborhood evolve from mostly owner-occupied homes to renter-occupied ones.

Traffic has choked streets, Stivers said, and conditions of some properties in Middleton Heights have deteriorated over the years. Nearby developments have also oversaturated the area with housing, she said.

“It’s changed a lot,” said Stivers, who continues to stay despites the neighborhood’s ups and downs. “We have no control over what happened,”

What happened

The area was originally dubbed “Middelton” for the prominent family who once owned land there, according to reports from Shelby County historians. The spelling of the site on postal routes and maps later changed to "Middleton.” Today, it's marked as "Middletown Heights" on many maps, to the objection of some residents.

Though it remains technically outside the city’s jurisdiction, its physical borders appear nearly seamless with outlying areas. The only true distinction may be the older style of architecture in the neighborhood.

Many of its two- and three-bedroom frame homes were constructed before––or around 1950.

“We practically watched them build these houses,” said 73-year-old Loretta Quire, who moved to the neighborhood in 1949 with her father.

Quire now lives on Cherry Lane with her husband, John, and remains the neighborhood’s longest residing resident.

“There wasn’t about two or three houses when we moved here,” she said.

Back then, dirt roads connected the neighborhood to the main highway, Quire recalled.

“I could look out my window and see cornfields,” said Stivers, whose father was also among the first to build a house in the neighborhood. “It used to be all farmland around us.”

That surrounding farmland was developed for subdivision-style housing during the last several decades and slowly was annexed into the city limits.

Middleton Heights remained insulated from annexation in the 1960s, however, because Shelbyville lacked the sewer capacity to serve residents. The neighborhood was eventually connected to city services about 15 years ago, but the cluster of homeowners who lived in Middleton Heights remained exempt from paying city property taxes.

One annexation failed

At least one attempt to annex the neighborhood into the city limits failed after Middleton Heights’ neighbors rejected the plan.

Quire said the annexation proposal offered few benefits––namely, sidewalk connectivity and overhead street lighting.

“Why pay an extra tax when we don’t need it?” Quire said. “We’ve got police protection, sheriff protection, state police coverage.”

And because it’s surrounded on all sides by the city, its proximity makes Middleton Heights the closest any homeowner can live to the city––without actually living in the city.

“We’re still country here, and we like that,” Quire said.

Though Stivers and Quire indicated they’ve considered relocating over the years for various reasons, both said they would likely remain in Middleton Heights indefinitely.

“I will die here,” Quire said. “Where we are, every neighbor watches each neighbor. We know the family. You don’t find neighborhoods like that any more.”