Lawsuit claims Lebanon's 5,225-acre annexation is illegal

Jan. 25—Property owners adjacent to the LEAP Lebanon district have filed a lawsuit claiming the City of Lebanon violated the law when it annexed 5,225 acres of the district and applied a new zoning classification to it in December.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. requested the annexation as part of LEAP Lebanon, the largest economic development in Hoosier history.

Michael Andreoli, attorney for the suit's 11 plaintiffs, wrote in the complaint that the annexation is also probably the largest example of spot zoning in the state.

Indiana Farm Bureau defines spot zoning as: "the singling out of a property for different treatment than similar surrounding land that is indistinguishable in character, for the economic benefit of the land singled out."

Lebanon in August annexed an initial 1,396 acres for the district that will cater to high-end, high-tech manufacturers and zoned the area for industrial use. But city leaders and remonstrators generally agreed that industrial zoning, even with obviously unwanted uses excluded, was not entirely appropriate.

The city still had no alternate zoning ordinance that applied to a LEAP, Limitless Exploration-Advanced Pace, district when it was asked for the second annexation. But city leaders worked with a company hired by county officials to create a new Planned Unit Development district for the area in question to stop a new zoning classification that is expected to be part of the PUD.

The city's new zoning classification is called LEAP, or LP, zoning and was applied to the second annexation in December. The remainder of the 5,225 acres are zoned for single-family dwellings.

The IEDC effectively circumvented the county's planning process by seeking annexation by the city before the county's new PUD was complete. And this came after the IEDC had offered to reimburse the county for all or part of the cost of the PUD.

Lebanon's revised comprehensive plan, adopted by the city in 2020, established Lebanon's jurisdiction as Lebanon, which is in Center Township, and the remainder of Center Township for Lebanon's zoning district authority — nothing more.

The area of the second annexation extends beyond Center Township's boundaries, is outside of the city's established planning and zoning boundaries, and was illegal, Andreoli wrote in the complaint.

Also, the city's unified development ordinance mandates that annexed property shall be classified as a single family zoning district unless the property owner submits a concept plan in advance of annexation, Andreoli claims.

The IEDC has submitted no concept plan to date. State representatives at the time argued that it would be impossible to submit concept plans when they don't yet know what companies they'll attract to the district.

Eli Lilly & Co., the only company to commit to the district, will situate in the first 1,396 annexed acres that are zoned for industrial use. Lilly only recently submitted site plans that are scheduled for the Lebanon City Council to approve in February.

"The applicant's (IEDC) rush to seek annexation under the LEAP Phase 2 Annexation of approximately 5,335 acres, and the City of Lebanon's illegal and unprecedented acquiescence thereto ... was done in contravention of Indiana Law ..." Andreoli wrote.

The plaintiffs fear the Phase 2 annexation: "diminishes their property values; diminishes their ability to have peaceful enjoyment of their residences and property; and denigrates their health and welfare due to the likelihood for substantial increased traffic, noise and pollution," according to their complaint.

The plaintiffs are Eric and Jeanette Cook, Keith and Patricia Ball, Rex and Sherri Cook, Chad Revell, Samuel and Sally Shepherd, and Brandon and Natalie Crow.

The City of Lebanon, represented by attorney Rob Schein, has yet to file an answer to the complaint. Boone Circuit Court Judge Lori Schein, wife of Rob Schein, has recused herself from the case.