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 Confined Animal Feeding Operations Vote Could Come Today

September 5, 2007 - The Henry County Commissioners could vote as early as this afternoon on a controversial amendment to the county's development code that could allow a confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to be as near as 300 feet to people's homes.

At the end of a public hearing on August 23, the Henry County Planning Commission voted 5-4 to recommend that the Henry County Development Code be amended to remove language a local judge said prohibited a CAFO from being any closer than 2,000 feet to a residence. In a ruling issued in June, Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis said county officials had misinterpreted the code when they approved a CAFO in Spiceland last fall that was closer than 2,000 feet to a residence.

Planning commissioners voting in favor of the amendment were Robert Bitler, William Griffin, County Commissioner Phil Estridge, Bob Witham and Planning Commission President Richard Byers, who broke a 4-4 tie. Voting against the change were David Jester, Bob Veach, Duane Elliott and Gary Wilson.

The Banner received notification from the Henry County Commissioners last Friday that they would consider the proposed change this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. This public meeting will be held in the Commissioners Meeting Room on the second floor of the Henry County Courthouse.

The August 23 hearing before the planning commission drew a full crowd to the old Henry County Circuit Courtroom. Nearly 20 people spoke against the proposed change, urging the planning commission not to change the wording in the code, while only about half a dozen spoke in favor of the amendment.

"This was not a mistake or mistype," Sally Wilson of Spiceland told the planning commissioners. She said the inclusion of the "or residential use" language had been intentional. "It was put into effect to protect the citizens of the county." She said that if code is amended as proposed, the county should give affected residents in agriculturally-zoned districts 180 days to apply to have their property rezoned.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with the code as it stands," said Paris Cross, who owns a golf course a potential CAFO site. "It's as good today as it was yesterday, or whenever it was written." If an amendment was going to be made, Cross suggested language simply be added that would permit exceptions to the setback requirements when the only effected residence is one owned by the person petitioning for the CAFO or other commission approved use.

Henry County resident Emily Hammersmith noted that the proposed change in the development code would also potentially change setbacks for many other commission approved uses, not just for CAFOs. She criticized members of the planning commission for not knowing how many homes in agriculturally zoned areas would be affected by the amendment, and complained about an inaccurate count she said Zoning Administrator Terri Roberts had given her in advance of the hearing.

Joe Baldwin, operations manager for Maxwell Farms, spoke in favor of the language change. He said the swine industry provides a positive economic impact. "Pork production provides jobs," he said.

Trent Dishman supported the change in the code and said Willis' ruling could "squelch an entire industry" in Henry County. "If we don't change this code … there's probably less than half a dozen places in this county where you could put a hog farm," he said.

Gary Kendrick said he believed the proposed amendment to the code was being sought "to change the basic rules of the game" after the earlier decision approving the CAFOs had been overturned by the court. He suggested that it was Judge Willis who had upheld the true intent of the development code with her ruling.


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