HANCOCK COUNTY — Property owners rural areas of the county are now able to seek permission from officials to process animals.

Previously, county rules only permitted animal and animal products processing in areas zoned industrial general, and only after the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals granted a special exception. Now, that board can also grant that exception in areas with agricultural zoning too.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners recently voted unanimously to approve the rule change after the county’s area plan commission recommended it earlier this fall.

“We’re an agricultural community, and there’s a lack of places to process meat in the community,” said John Jessup, president of the commissioners. “It gives an outlet for our local farmers to get fresh meat to market, keeps it in our local economy, and it’s better meat.”

Officials first started considering the rule change after Steve Rusche, who raises livestock in the county, expressed a desire to have a small butchering operation on property he owns that’s zoned agricultural. Days after the commissioners made it permissible, the board of zoning appeals approved Rusche’s request.

As Rusche sought the ability to process animals on his property, he also cited the lack of and long waits for such services in the area.

“I think when Mr. Rusche brought it before the plan commission, we all looked at it as there is a need for this type of processing,” said Bill Spalding, a member of the board of commissioners and plan commission. “I know a lot of these processors are backed up with orders. So this will help to alleviate a lot of that backlog and get people the meat they need in their freezers to feed their families.”

Spalding appreciates that the regulation doesn’t give agricultural property owners permission to start animal processing whenever they’d want, and that the board of zoning appeals has to consider each request.

“I think the ability to be able to continue to weigh in on what’s going on there makes that more valuable for the BZA and us in local government,” he said.

Jessup agreed.

“Being an agricultural community with a lot of residential areas and commercial areas, it makes sense to have an extra step in the process to make sure that it’s not way out of line with its surroundings,” he said.
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