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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 10:03 pm

Denial of truck hub leads to suit

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

The company behind the proposed giant truck and rail facility on Winters Road near the General Motors plant in Lafayette Township has sued the Allen County commissioners, alleging they improperly denied its plans.

Crown Enterprises of Warren, Michigan, filed the suit Tuesday in Allen Superior Court, claiming the action taken by the commissioners in January to deny a rezoning that would have allowed the so-called "truck hub" project to go forward was "arbitrary and capricious."

"Rather than neutrally considering the appropriate statutory factors in evaluating Crown’s rezoning petition, the Board of Commissioners improperly considered Allen County’s financial interest in a competing real estate development and the related interest in validating the Board of Commissioners’ highly controversial decision to direct Allen County to invest in that competing real estate development," the suit says.

The "competing" development is identified as the county-owned, shovel-ready Stonebridge Business Park, where NorthPoint Development of Kansas City, Missouri, had purchased land and options with plans for another trucking facility. Stonebridge is across Lafayette Center Road, just south of GM.

The suit also contends that the denial was not based on law and that it "improperly considered arguments by opponents," neighbors of the project, who should not have had input because they did not live close enough to the project.

The commissioners also improperly ignored county planning documents; the plan commission’s previous approval of the project; and a written commitment from Crown to mitigate neighbors’ concerns, the suit contends.

Grant and Stephanie Schultz, part of a large group of residents who opposed Crown’s plans, previously filed suit against the plan commission’s decision. Last week, that case was put on hold by Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy Boyer when a lawyer for Crown said another lawsuit would soon be filed.

Crown is seeking to have the commissioners’ decision overturned and/or to be compensated for its 87-acre property, which, it contends, has been left "unable to serve any viable use." Crown alleges that the commissioners’ denial amounts to a taking by eminent domain without "proper proceedings and necessary compensation."

Michael Green, spokesman for the commissioners, had no comment Wednesday. "We do not comment on proposed or pending litigation," he said.

In Crown’s suit, filed by Jeffrey A. Clark of Burt Blee Dixon Sutton & Bloom, Fort Wayne, Crown alleges a conversation took place between Commissioner Nelson Peters and Crown president Michael Samhat in which Peters told Samhat that Crown should not go forward with its proposal.

Peters "stated that Crown’s only option, if it wished to be the developer," would be to purchase property owned or optioned by NorthPoint in Stonebridge.

That amounted to a conflict of interest, because it would have meant the county "would recoup its investment in the Stonebridge Park and would have validated the Board of Commissioners’ controversial approval of the County’s purchase of the park," the suit alleges.

"In effect, the government (Board of Commissioners) is choosing winners and losers, rather than the market," the suit says.

Crown did not follow Peters’ "directive" and instead "sought a favorable decision" from the commissioners, the suit says.

The suit alleges that Stonebridge was unsuitable for Crown’s project because at that time, its legal covenants did not include logistics facilities, although it appears that amendments to the covenants are being pursued for NorthPoint. Stonebridge also did not have needed rail access, according to the suit.

Crown also contends that county planning documents support industrial development north of GM to serve the plant, a contention disputed by neighbors. County commissioners recently appointed a task force to study those documents and suggest improvements.

The suit does not mention that Crown sought rezoning in 2001 for a similar project half the size of its recent proposal, which was turned down by the county commissioners after being approved by the plan commission.

rsalter@jg.net