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Zoning case delayed another month

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

It will be at least another month before a decision is made on whether a picnic shelter on private property can be classified as a public recreation area. The fate of a large agricultural development next to it may be at stake.

The case involves a request from Mark and Dena J. Bills to have the APC and Board of Zoning Appeals grant them a special exception to local zoning, declaring that a picnic shelter they built on their property is a public recreation area. If allowed, it would mean that a confined animal feeding operation could not be constructed as planned on a neighboring property.

On Monday, the Area Planning Commission found out that attorneys for the Billses have appealed a decision by planning administrator Bill MacDaniel that affects the case. Before the APC can conduct a public hearing about the case, the appeal must be decided. It is the second consecutive month that the hearing has been delayed.

At its July 8 meeting, MacDaniel asked the APC to table a hearing on the Bills request for 30 days, to give him more time to review documents and regulations. Since then, attorneys for Andrew Dora, who is planning the CAFO, submitted several documents about the case.

 

In his written staff report to the APC and BZA for their August meetings, MacDaniel said he was giving an unfavorable recommendation on the Bills request, saying that approving it "will functionally serve as a ban on any animal agriculture requiring" state and federal permits and "undermines and reverses" locally established land use policy.

The attorney for the Billses has appealed MacDaniel's decision to accept Dora's documents as part of the case. They argue that the APC's rules state that all documents about the case must be submitted at least five days before a scheduled hearing. Tabling the hearing preserved the original deadline, the attorneys maintain.

The APC had no choice but to delay the hearing again so that the Board of Zoning Appeals could schedule a special meeting to decide on the Bills' appeal, MacDaniel said. The BZA meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 4, five days before the next regular APC meeting. Both the APC and BZA normally meet on second Monday each month.

MacDaniel told the APC that if the Billses disagree with the BZA's decision on Sept. 4, they could go to court, which would delay the process even further.

Dora has proposed constructing a CAFO that would house 5,000 swine on family property that abuts the Bills property on two sides. The Billses constructed a small shelter on the northwest corner of their property, at 5554 N. Co. Road 850 W. A sign in front of it declares it is open for public use from May to October.

County zoning regulations do not allow a CAFO to be constructed within one mile of a public recreation area. The regulations do not define a public recreation area.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved Dora's plan in May. It also needs approval from the APC and BZA. When the Billses filed their petition for the zoning exception, Dora had not applied for approval by the APC and BZA.

Dora's attorneys have submitted several documents. At least one cites definitions of public recreation area that are used by other government jurisdictions and claims that the Bills area does not meet those definitions.

MacDaniel said the Sept. 4 meeting will be at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 500 Central Ave.

On July 8, about 40 people came to the APC/BZA meetings, overflowing the City Hall meeting room. The Sept. 9 hearing is expected to draw a larger crowd and has tentatively been moved to the Robert E. Wise Center for Performing Arts at Connersville High School. The APC meets at 7 p.m. and the BZA meeting follows.

All the meetings are open to the public. City TV Channel 3 also live broadcasts regular APC/BZA meetings.