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Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Commissioners OK height increase in E. Jefferson

Could allow ethanol plant construction near Celina

By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer County commissioners this morning voted to increase the height limitation for industrial structures in East Jefferson Township from 45 to 125 feet - an action that is expected to anger some residents and clear a path for the construction of a proposed ethanol plant.
Commissioner John Bruns motioned to adopt the change and the action was unanimously passed by all three commissioners, as is required by law. The motion will go into effect in 30 days unless a referendum is filed with the local board of elections by township residents. The issue then could face a public vote at an upcoming election.
Today's action will make moot a lawsuit against Mercer Energy, which plans to construct a $125 million ethanol plant with structures as tall as 94 feet in the township near state Route 29. Although the company received a height variance earlier this year to begin construction, work has been delayed due to a pending lawsuit that alleges misconduct of the height variance process.
The current zoning code prohibits industrial and commercial buildings from exceeding a height of 45 feet. The commissioners could have made the height unlimited, but opted to keep it in line with the height of the tallest silo in the county, they said.
The commissioners - Bruns, Jerry Laffin and Bob Nuding - had the option of leaving the current zoning code in place, amending it or allowing it to become completely unrestricted. They have said they proposed the zoning change to attract more industry to the area to become more competitive in the industrial market.
"Anyone can take a look at the industrial area online, so we'll never know how many (businesses) decided against building here" in the past because of the 45-foot height restriction, Laffin told The Daily Standard.
The change to 125 feet is subject to any current or future Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which would override the height variance, the commissioners said. The FAA could lower the height restriction but not raise it higher than 125 feet. A longtime water landing strip on the north side of the lake could influence the FAA to step in, they added.
At a public forum held July 17, 18 residents spoke out - most against a change in the zoning code. Many said they feared the possibility of excess pollution and devaluation of their properties on the north side of Grand Lake. At least one resident in attendance vowed to file a referendum of objection if the commissioners raised the height limitation.
Laffin said they listened to the comments made at the public meeting and read the letters submitted to them before announcing their decision, which had to be made within 20 days of the hearing.
"We have to think of the whole picture and the future of the entire county," Laffin said this morning.
The commissioners said they also took into consideration action in June by the Mercer County Zoning Commission to not recommend raising the height.
The county zoning commission only regulates East Jefferson Township because it is the only township in the county that voted more than 30 years ago to be governed by them. Therefore, all zoning code regulations in the township are subject to final approval by the county commissioners.
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