Utopia zoning request granted

A licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility that has operated in Clifty Township for the past 14 years has received zoning approval to continue operating in an agricultural area.

The Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a zoning variance for Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators.

With no discussion among members, the board also gave Utopia operator Kathy Hershey permission to add a pole barn for storage and animal housing, with the understanding that no additional animals will be added.

The wildlife sanctuary east of Newbern is on a nine-acre parcel at 18300 E. County Road 200N, owned by Hershey and her husband, Jerald.

Ned Fear, who lives about five miles southeast of the facility along County Road 1200E, outlined a number of concerns that include what he described as animal pens rolling down hills in the rain, mobile buildings without foundations, insufficient parking and the smell of an unknown chemical in a wooded area.

But Joseph Bronnert of County Road 200N, who has lived next door to Utopia since it opened in 2002, provided a different story.

“I’ve never had any problems with (the sanctuary),” said Bronnert, who described the Hersheys as wonderful neighbors.

Similar accolades also were spoken by local residents Annalee Huey, John O’Halloran and Nancy Banta.

Jerald Hershey said he recalls Fear had spoken during a Jan. 27, 2014, public hearing in favor of William Gelfius’ original proposal to house up to 8,800 hogs in a confined animal feeding operation near Anderson Falls Park.

In addressing the BZA two years ago, Fear equated the potential environmental damage to Clifty Creek caused by large quantities of hog manure with possible water contamination caused by skinny-dippers, Kathy Hershey said.

At the time, the Hersheys were outspoken critics of the proposed CAFO, which was approved after the proposal was reduced to 4,400 swine.

Fear brought up his feelings regarding the Gelfius matter during his comments Monday.

Kathy Hershey strongly opposed an operation that would feed people, while not operating within local zoning laws herself, Fear said.

“That bothers me,” he said.

The wildlife facility filed for the zoning variance after a complaint was forwarded to Bartholomew County Zoning Enforcement officer Bill Klakampt.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.