On July 11, 2017, the Circuit Court in Fayette County, Indiana issued an opinion affirming the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeal's (BZA) decision to grant a special exception to an Indiana dairy farm. Todd and Brianna represented the dairy farm in front of the BZA and on appeal.
After several public meetings in the spring of 2016, the BZA granted a special exception for the dairy farm to build a new 1,400-head dairy. A local summer camp appealed the special exception to a trial court in Fayette County.
The camp argued the special exception violated its freedom of religion. It claimed the dairy would make it more difficult to carry out its religious practices. However, the Court explained there was no evidence the camp would have to stop or change any of its activities because of the dairy. Likewise, the county ordinances at issue were imposed against the dairy--not the camp. The camp is in Henry County, so the Rush County zoning ordinances do not affect the camp. In any event, the county ordinance treats religious and non-religious uses equally. Neither the special exception nor the dairy violate the camp's religious freedom.
The camp also contended the special exception violated the Indiana Constitution's Equal Privileges and Immunities clause. The camp claimed it should have been treated like a school under the county zoning ordinance and therefore the dairy should have been subject to a 1-mile setback from the camp. The court found it was reasonable for the county to treat schools and summer camps differently.
The camp also argued the special exception decision was the product of undue influence. It alleged a local citizen talked to a BZA member in the hallway during one of the public meetings and told the BZA member that he thought there was no reason not to pass the special exception. The BZA member did not hear the comment and it did not affect his vote. The Court ruled there was no undue influence.
Finally, the camp claimed the BZA's findings were not detailed enough. The Court rejected this argument. The BZA heard significant evidence in favor of and in opposition to the special exception and ultimately issued findings which addressed all the zoning requirements for a special exception.
The court's full decision is available here.