This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A couple more meetings

After the City Council meeting on Monday night, I meandered over to the Court House for a couple more meetings. First the Plan Commission met with two items on their agenda plus an election of officers. Both they and the BZA kept the existing officers.

One item on the agenda of the Plan Commission was a request for a rezone of 30 acres in Kankakee Township from A1 to A2 for a future subdivision. The person requesting the the rezone was not present but several of the neighbors were and they were very much opposed. They feared that the subdivision would be cheap housing--trailers and modular homes--that would devalue their properties and they had nothing good to say about the owner who lives in Illinois. Because the petitioner had not bothered to attend and had provided no details at all of what he planned to do, the Commission rejected his request.

The rest of the evening was devoted to requests from Max L. Farms, which is associated with Belstra Milling. The property they were concerned with was in Barkley Township on 170 W. The request before the Plan Commission was a rezone from A1 to A3 (intensive agriculture). The use of the property is currently a confined feeding operation for pigs and as such it should be zoned A3 but it not, though part of the property is shown on a long-range planning map as intensive agriculture. The company wants to build a fourth building for hogs that will almost double the size of the operation. The building will be 98' by 397' and will house about 3300 hogs from weening to finish. They will be in three different rooms. The building will have an eight foot manure pit beneath it and the manure will be used by several area farms for fertilizer. The building will cost about $300,00 and it will cost another $200,000 to equip it. The expansion will add two employees to the operation.

A member of the commission asked why they wanted their entire property of 99 acres rezoned and not just the smaller area in which the hog buildings are located. Did they plan future expansion on the site? The representatives from Max L Farms said that at present the optimal size for a hog farm is about 7000 head. Beyond that and the risk of disease offsets any economies of scale. At present if they expanded, they would not expand on the property, but changing technology and changing regulations make the future uncertain. In the future the optimal size may be larger or regulations may make it difficult to set up operations on other sites. So they thought it wise to ask for a rezone of the entire property.

The Plan Commission approved their rezoning request.

Then the Board of Zoning Appeals met. After re-electing their chairperson, they took up the only two items on their agenda, both of which were requests for variances from Max L Farms. The first was for a special exception variance, which the county ordinance requires whenever there is a change in scale of operations. The spokesmen, who were as well prepared as any I have seen at these meetings, had explained that there had been hog production at the site for forty years. They had spoken to or tried to contact all the neighbors and had had no complaints about the expansion. The humorous note for the evening was when he said that in talking to the neighbors about their operation, "And there was one who thought it was a dairy farm." The request for a special exception variance passed.

The other variance was for setbacks and something for the road that I did not quite catch. The county ordinance says these structures are to be 1000 feet away from the roads. The Max L Farms people pointed out that even with a 99 acre lot, they could not meet that requirement and that their current buildings did not meet that requirement, being much closer to the road. There is one small building on the site that is about twenty feet from the road. Instead they wanted to place the new building about 60 feet from the road. The main reason for this location was that it would best fit into the existing complex of buildings, allowing them to build a hallway from an another hog barn. For biosecurity reasons they want only one entrance in the entire complex for humans. (If you have ever visited the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks--also part of Belstra--you should know how important biosecurity is to hog farms.) After considerable discussion, the BZA approved the variance with one member voting against.

The next regulatory hurdle for Max L Farms will be getting approval from the Drainage Board.

After the meeting I heard one of the Belstra Milling guys mention that Beletra had recently purchased Heinhold Feeds of Knox.

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