GREENFIELD — For now, no changes will be made to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding large-scale animal operations.
After 45 minutes of discussion Tuesday night, the Hancock Area Plan Commission decided to make no changes to the current ordinance, despite a request from a citizens group to increase the buffer zone between animal farms and their neighbors.
Board members decided the commission should wait until a study being considered by the state Legislature is complete to revisit the issue.
Farmers, neighbors and representatives from the city were present at the meeting to discuss the amendment proposed by a group of Hancock County residents.
Resident Angela Jackson asked the commission to consider stricter regulations for confined feeding operations (CFOs), as well as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
She wanted the county to change the zoning ordinance to prohibit CAFOs and CFOs from expanding or building within 5,200 feet of a group of homes without getting a special exemption from the county’s board of zoning appeals.
The current ordinance, which was adopted in 2008, prohibits such operations from locating closer than 750 feet to an existing residential structure without meeting buffering standards or getting an exemption.
The change Jackson requested isn’t meant to keep CAFOs and CFOs out of Hancock County, she said. She said she understands the county has a rich history of agriculture.
“I don’t think the situation is black or white when ag and residential meet. There needs to be individual consideration for confined feeding operations that are near residential areas,” she said. “(The amendment’s) purpose is to allow the community to openly discuss their concerns and be involved when a facility is proposed near them, whether it’s an expansion or a new facility.
Mike Lewis is a fifth generation Hancock County pork producer. He spoke against the amendment because he said he thought it was too vague.
His family has been farming in eastern Hancock County since the 1950s, and the farm is located one mile west of Charlottesville.
If approved, the amendment would have prohibited his operation from planning any expansion without special approval, which creates extra steps that make the process more difficult.
“I’ve lived confined feeding. It’s my life. It’s my first-hand experience,” Lewis said. “If you have health concerns, I’ve been there since I was 3. I raised my family there. …I would openly answer questions and concerns if you have concerns about living near a CAFO.”
Joanie Fitzwater, zoning administrator for the city of Greenfield, told commission members city officials have requested the county mind the city’s future growth plans when considering regulations for animal farming operations.
The city’s growth boundary, which was adopted in 2006 in the comprehensive plan, shows county roads 350N, 200W, 500E and 300S are likely to be annexed by 2036.
The city and county could be more collaborative in reviewing the land use and best management practices within the growth boundaries, she said.
The city would like to form a task force to review and investigate similar regulations in other counties across the state.
“The directors would then provide (the city’s and county’s) plan commissions a professional recommendation for best management practices within municipal areas proposed for growth,” Fitzwater said.
Addison Hill, 12, and her siblings are the fifth generation of their family to raise pigs in Hancock County.
If she and her siblings choose to return home to farm when they grow up, their family farm will need to expand, she said.
Stricter setbacks may keep the farm from doing so, which would be detrimental, she said.
“This would be devastating not only for my family but also for the other farmers in Hancock County. On behalf of me and my siblings, I encourage you to not make any zoning changes in the future for my future,” she told commission members.
County planning director Mike Dale told commission members a bill is making its way through the Indiana Legislature that would require Purdue University College of Agriculture and Purdue Extension to conduct a study on the effects of local land ordinances on livestock housing.
Originally, the bill aimed to strip local governments of the ability to adopt ordinances restricting the construction of agriculture buildings for livestock. The bill has since been amended to focus on the study.
Commission President Tom Nigh told members they need to move forward.
“Perhaps it’s an important issue,” he said. “We need to take some action at this point.”
But a motion to form a local sub-committee to study the issue wasn’t supported by other members.
Instead, members voted 7-1 to leave the ordinance as is and revisit the topic once the study is complete.
Currently, the bill requires the study to be completed and presented to the state’s budget committee, land resources council and legislative council by November.
Jackson is upset the commission took no action.
She’s spent the last year working toward making changes to the ordinance.
“I’m a little disappointed,” she said after the meeting. “I was hoping in the meantime they would go ahead and make some changes,” she said.
Lewis thinks the move proves the current ordinance has merit, but he knows the issue isn’t dead.
“We’ll just wait and see,” he said.