Richmond’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved variance requests last week that will allow an eighth solar park and a new grain handling company that will supply area pet food manufacturers.

The requests for fence height by the Indiana Municipal Power Agency and for building height by Anchor Transload LLC needed and received affirmative votes from all three BZA members present at the May 10 meeting: Kelley Cruse-Nicholson, Dakota Collins and Jeff Cook. 

IMPA has five active solar parks in Richmond and two more under construction. All but the small park near the generating station on U.S. 27 have 7-foot-high chain link fences with an additional foot of barbed wire on the top. That’s the same fencing configuration BZA approved for the eighth park, which would be along U.S. 40 west of the city. The zoning maximum is a 4-foot fence.

Two neighboring property owners who live on Woody Drive west of the site expressed concerns about landscaping to hide the fence from their view. The BZA approval includes a commitment from IMPA to provide a landscaping barrier. When there is not an existing tree line, IMPA generally plants small evergreen trees that grow to fill the gaps. Putting the trees on a berm to better obscure the fence was suggested.

Chris Sanders of IMPA said the eighth park involves an $11 million investment. There will be about 13,800 solar panels that track the sun as it moves east to west each day. They would provide about 6 megawatts of power that would go directly into Richmond Power & Light’s distribution system for local use.

With BZA approval, IMPA will now finalize purchase of the land from First Bank Richmond. Sanders said construction is expected to begin this fall and should take eight to 10 months.

Anchor Transload LLC received permission for a building up to 145 feet high. The zoning maximum is 50 feet; however, other Midwest Industrial Park occupants, including Blue Buffalo, have received variances for taller buildings. The height is needed for grain storage bins and the required conveyance system.

The building will be located east of Blue Buffalo on MIP land west of Round Barn Road and north of West Industries Drive. The site plan shows a rail spur from the Norfolk Southern Railroad that would loop across the north side of the new facility and down the west side. Richmond Redevelopment Commission has committed $900,000 to build the rail spur.

The new facility, which is expected to include a $39 million investment and create 30 jobs, will receive, process and distribute grain to support Blue Buffalo and other area pet food manufacturers.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 17 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.