Late in August, dozens of people crowded into a small meeting room in Licking County's Harrison Township.

Late in August, dozens of people crowded into a small meeting room in Licking County's Harrison Township.

Some were empty-handed, bringing just their curiosity, but many came gripping scribbled notes, pens and calculators, ready for a fight. Together, they would decide the fate of more than 300 acres of bucolic farmland in St. Albans Township along state Route 161 east of state Route 310.

The land, owned by the same local family for decades, ultimately was split and auctioned among five buyers. Much of the land was sold to farmers, so local leaders don't expect it to change drastically in the near future. But the sale of a big family farm was the latest example of an evolving Licking County.

As growth in New Albany continues to push eastward into Licking County and companies such as Amazon contribute to development near Pataskala, county leaders and the communities in it are readying for what's next.

For Licking County planning director Jerry Newton, the county is tasked with anticipating change and understanding how small developments -- such as the sale of a family farm or the legalization of medical marijuana -- can have lasting impact.

"Businesses want to be there because they know it's stable," Newton said. "That becomes the challenge that we collectively have to work on as the government -- that businesses and the residents feel there's enough structure and comfort that they're confident to come and stay and grow."

A lack of utility access along Route 161 in St. Albans Township, which is west of Granville, has helped keep that area quiet and free of much development. The Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District serves the southwest part of the county and has an agreement to service the Route 161 corridor, but only if someone is willing to pay to extend those utilities, said Leo Conkel Jr., general manager for the district.

"It's too expensive anymore to 'build it and they will come,' " Conkel said.

Rumors fly now and then that a developer or big business willing to pay to extend utilities -- such as Walmart -- is on the way, said Tom Frederick, zoning inspector for St. Albans and Harrison townships.

"It would take somebody like that, almost, to have the funds to be able to provide the water and sewer to come from (Route) 310," Frederick said.

Without an engineering study, it's difficult to gauge what it would cost to extend the utilities, Conkel said. The cost would depend on what kinds of utilities were needed and where, but Conkel estimates that it would be at least several million dollars.

St. Albans Township has fewer than 2,500 residents, and many who like the quiet of their rural community have found the lack of utilities to be a blessing, keeping big changes at bay, Frederick said.

For their neighbors to the west, in Jersey Township, however, it's been a different story. New Albany continues to annex land (more than 200 acres this year), pushing east into the township, which has a population of about 2,700.

A new Route 161 interchange is planned at Mink Street, which has been a quiet country road. The $8.6 million interchange east of Beech Road is meant to accommodate traffic from New Albany's existing and anticipated commercial development.

"It's going to then generate new locations for more business," Newton said. "If people have lived there all these years, it's very much understandable that they're not going to like it, or wonder why it's changing."

It's important for the county and its communities to be a part of the conversation as the area grows and changes, Newton said.

Part of that conversation is the idea of renaming the Route 161 corridor. Even though many drivers traveling from New Albany to Newark recognize that corridor as a single road, it takes three route names between New Albany and Newark: 161, 37 and 16.

Renaming the road would provide clarity for drivers, Newton said. One suggested name is MIT Boulevard, short for "manufacturing, innovation and technology," Newton said. That would capture the spirit of the area both recently and historically, he said.

"The community, Licking County, will stay intact," Newton said. "But to the person who hasn't been here in a few years, they're going to wonder what happened."