Vigo commissioners OK rezoning for animal research lab

Dec. 6—In a 2-0 vote, the Vigo County Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved rezoning 40 acres in Linton Township for an animal research laboratory.

Lindy and Marilyn Miller sought to rezone the property located about 3,000 feet south of the intersection of Hook Drive/Pimento Circle on the west side of U.S. 41 in Linton Township.

The Millers own LFM Quality Laboratories Inc., currently operating at 2458 Chamberlain St.

Commissioner President Chris Switzer made the motion to approve, seconded by Commissioner Mike Morris.

Switzer cited the rezoning gained approval of the 14-member Vigo County Plan Commission and the company's plan to add more employees to the county's workforce. The company currently has seven full-time workers and expects to expand to as many as 20 workers, Switzer said.

The Plan Commission previously overruled an unfavorable review from Vigo County Area Planning Department, which gave an unfavorable recommendation citing the availability of already zoned and improved light industrial locations within a few miles of the site.

While the issue brought opposition from neighbors as well as county residents against the use of animals for research, Switzer said the board had to rule based on zoning requirements.

"So, we had something like this similarly with the city (of Terre Haute) that got challenged in court after it went to the (city's) Board of Zoning Appeals," Switzer said after the meeting.

"The Board of Zoning Appeals denied a rezoning, which got them in a lawsuit that they ultimately lost and the rezoning was awarded in regards to a strip club, adult entertainment, close to Terre Haute North (Vigo) High School," Switzer said.

"It is a similar situation. I did not want to open the county to a lawsuit based on morality. The matter at hand is simply taking a piece of agricultural property that can allow for animals (zoning for agriculture) to go to M-1," a zoning for light manufacturing, Switzer said.

The city's Board of Zoning action was taken in June 2019. In November 2020, a federal judge struck down the zoning ruling, clearing the way for the "Playpen" to open at 3295 N. Fruitridge Ave.

Switzer said the difference is the Miller's could have gone to other areas already zoned "M-1" light industrial to expand a business "and these folks would not have the opportunity to even know about it. I think the gentleman went the right route, he came to us and did whatever he was supposed to do. We ultimately approved it and I hope he is successful in his business," Switzer said.

Commissioner Brendan Kearns was absent Tuesday; he was attending the funeral of a relative.

Prior to the decision, adjacent landowner Steve Gwin brought up zoning-specific issues, questioning if his agricultural insurance would increase as it would be located next to a light industrial manufacturing zoned area; voiced concern of environmental issues if any spill or chemical were released that could impact ground well water; and if he had to cover the cost of a fence.

Attorney Richard J. Shagley II, representing the company, said LFM Quality Laboratories Inc. has to meet federal and state requirements for its testings, adding the company is self-contained and does not release chemicals. If there was a concern, the issue would be addressed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Shagley said.

Jared Bayler, executive director of the Vigo County Area Planning Department, told commissioners there is no buffer requirement, such as trees or fencing, for M-1 zoned property adjacent to agricultural land. Shagley said the company would work with Gwin if there is a concern regarding buffering.

Shagley said the land is next to U.S. 41 which already had similar zoning, saying the company is "a good fit" for the property.

Some residents again voiced concern based on animal testing. Vigo County resident Nancy Hoopingarner, who previously addressed commissioners, said she continues to object to an moral and ethical aspects of an animal laboratory.

Vigo resident Howard Kruzan voiced support for the laboratory, saying Terre Haute has a history of animal-related industry such as International Minerals & Chemical Corp (IMC), Pittman-Moore and Eli Lilly, which under its subsidiary, Elanco, had an animal enzyme plant in the city.

"It is like politics, it is a split," Kruzan said of public opinion, adding federal requirements require testing of compound medications "to figure out the best and safest levels."

Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter @TribStarHoward.