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Monday, January 04, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Looking back on "Flying J plans can proceed after high court ruling"

Updating this ILB entry from Dec. 27, 2009, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has a long editorial today, headed "Futile zoning battle" that looks back - a few quotes:

The exhausting and expensive legal skirmish between New Haven and the operator of a chain of truck stops may have ended last week with the Indiana Supreme Court ruling against New Haven. But both sides paid dearly, and the battle leaves some residents questioning whether New Haven officials are guilty of overzealous zoning enforcement.

New Haven officials have a responsibility to enforce a zoning ordinance that sets parameters for development within the city. But city leaders need to be diligent about balancing their duty to protect the best interests of the community while upholding property owners’ rights and encouraging economic development. * * *

After New Haven planning officials rejected the proposal, the proposed project took a long and meandering trip through the courts – twice reaching the state’s highest court in search of resolution. That resolution came with the Indiana Supreme Court ruling not to hear the case for a second time, effectively upholding decisions from the appeals court and a lower court in favor of Flying J.

A questionable decision from New Haven officials to change the rules for development in the middle of the game necessitated the second round of legal reviews. The city amended its zoning ordinance to limit the size of service stations to 2 acres – after Flying J bought land for the travel plaza.

Flying J representatives contend the city was specifically targeting their project with the amendment. The trial court found that the city “concealed its efforts to adopt the Amended Ordinance from Flying J.”

If the company decides it still wants to build the plaza, it will need to submit a development plan to the New Haven Plan Commission. Considering the company’s previous experience dealing with New Haven and a recent bankruptcy filing, it appears unlikely the project will move forward anytime soon.

New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald said the legal battle was worth it, but after nearly five years of legal wrangling where New Haven taxpayers spent $110,948 in legal fees, the land remains vacant. Flying J doesn’t have a travel plaza – after spending more than $4 million for land, engineering, surveys and legal fees – and New Haven residents can’t look forward to any of the jobs or increased tax revenue the project might have generated.

New Haven officials also need to consider the possibility that they have sent a message that future developers cannot trust the city to follow its own zoning laws.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 4, 2010 09:31 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions