MAXWELL — Officials on Thursday approved measures needed for an animal processing facility, a prime choice in the eyes of its supporters.

Opponents who live in a nearby neighborhood, however, maintain the development will butcher their quality of life.

SP Property Investments plans to develop the facility at 238 N. Main St. in Maxwell, a property it owns where construction company Smith Projects operates as well as a commercial building housing an Edward Jones office.

Revised plans call for replacing an existing pole barn behind, or to the west of the commercial building, with a 14,950-square-foot structure split into three units. The easternmost 6,175 square feet will be for processing cows and hogs, while the other two units will store construction supplies. A retail meat operation will go in the nearby commercial building.

SP Property Investments needed a special exception for the animal processing facility from the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals, as well as a variance to allow the building to be 15 feet, rather than the county’s rule of 50 feet, from the property line to the south shared with Indiana Automotive Equipment, which supports the project. The zoning board approved both 4-1, with Byron Holden, Dee Carmichael, Merle McRoberts and Michael Long voting in favor and Renee Oldham voting against.

Proponents of the project compare it to Archer’s Meats and Catering, which has received and processed live animals in Greenwood since 1966 and is located near commercial and residential properties. Carmichael said he’s spoken with people in Johnson County, where Greenwood is located, about the operation.

“They all said there’d never been any complaints about it,” he said, adding it shares a parking lot with an ice cream store.

Oldham said while she agrees there is a need for an animal processing facility in Hancock County, one doesn’t belong so close to the Twin Oaks neighborhood, which is just over 200 feet northwest of where SP Property Investments’ latest venture is planned.

“It comes down to is this a good fit that coincides with the neighborhood, and I’ve gone back and forth about that,” Oldham said.

Briane House, a lawyer with the Greenfield law firm Pritzke & Davis representing SP Property Investments, said he understands neighbors’ concerns about not wanting to see, hear or smell the operation, but he feels those concerns are unfounded.

“I think in the minds of the persons who oppose this, they have visions of some festering, fly-infested dumpster,” House said. “It’s not the way this works. Everything that’s utilized in these facilities is maintained, and kept and marketed. … No one will see anything of any significance. No one will smell anything, because this is a state-of-the-art facility and in fact, everything is utilized.”

According to SP Property Investments’ plans, animals will be delivered by appointment only one day a week. Trucks with trailers will back up to an overhead door, and animals will immediately be moved into a holding pen in the building until processing. The facility will process a maximum of 20 cows and 40 hogs per week.

“There will be no live animals outside this building,” said Jon Smith, founder and CEO of Smith Projects. “They will never be seen outside except for at drop-off for a one-minute period or two-minute period from trailer to inside the shop. There will be no live animals outside, nor any waste products outside.”

Smith’s plans also call for the building to have a metal exterior, insulated walls, ceramic tile covering the interior walls and for the building to be climate-controlled. The facility will follow state and federal guidelines and be subject to daily state inspections.

Inedible portions of animals will be placed into barrels stored in a chiller room in the facility and picked up several times a week by a company that will transport them for further processing into fertilizer and other consumer products.

The facility’s operating hours are planned to be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, possibly extending to 5 p.m. during busy times.

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture supports the project, as do elected and public officials, area farming operations and meat industry organizations. They cite the lack of such a facility in Hancock County and the long wait times at similar facilities across the state. The Hancock County Planning Department received 36 letters of support for the project.

The county also received 31 letters from people opposed and three petitions against the project totaling more than 80 signatures.

Several Twin Oaks residents spoke against the project at the zoning board’s meeting this week. They emphasized they weren’t opposed to animal processing, just the proposal’s proximity to their neighborhood. Testimonies included concerns about possible negative impacts to property values, doubts over assurances that the facility won’t result in any unpleasant odors and doubts that the nearby wastewater treatment facility would be able to handle the facility’s wastewater. They also expressed a lack of trust in Smith’s ability to be a good neighbor, reporting disturbances like early-morning loud noises from his construction operation.

“It’s not a good fit,” Edward Flick said. “A construction company is needed, animal processing is needed, but not next to a residential neighborhood which was there first.”

Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, said he did not have an issue with the setback variance. However, he reiterated his empathy for Twin Oaks residents and his unfavorable recommendation for the special exception that he shared last month when the request was first introduced.

“Also I am concerned about the delivery of animals,” Dale said. “They could present noxious conditions to nearby property owners. The activity could produce an environment that’s inconsistent with the adjacent residential properties, and the project is not consistent with the purpose of our zoning code to promote compatibility between adjoining land uses.”

The zoning board’s approval is subject to several conditions. With the exception of motor vehicles, the operation should not produce any noise or odor, detectable without instruments, at the property line of the adjoining residential district. Also, the zoning board reserves the right to modify or revoke the special exception at a public hearing if the operation constitutes a public nuisance. Dale explained that means if the county receives complaints about the operation indicating an inconsistency with what was approved, SP Property Investments can be notified about them in an attempt to reach a resolution.

With the special exception and variance approved, next on SP Property Investments’ list is pursuing a building permit and state construction design release, among other approvals. Smith told the Daily Reporter if all goes according to plan, he intends for construction to start in the next 30 days. He estimates animal processing won’t start until the first of next year due to a long lead time for equipment needed in the facility.
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