Judge dismisses landowners’ lawsuit against LEAP District annexation

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A Boone County judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a group of landowners against the city of Lebanon over the municipality’s decision to annex 5,200 acres of land and create a new zoning district for the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, a planned 9,000-acre or more manufacturing and tech hub along Interstate 65.

The 11 landowners filed legal action in January challenging the annexation and the zoning classifications assigned to the annexation area. They argued that the city was improperly assigning zoning classifications to property in Jefferson Township despite that area not being included in the city’s comprehensive plan.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state’s job-creation agency, intervened on behalf of the city in an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed.

Three months later, the city adopted a resolution to include all of the annexation area in its comprehensive plan, and the landowners opted not to appeal the ruling.

“We offered no response in objection because they had taken the correct statutory procedures,” said Michael Andreoli, a Zionsville attorney representing the landowners.

The city and IEDC then filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which the court granted Tuesday.

“As I have said from the beginning, this challenge was simply an attempt to delay a 100% voluntary annexation and had no valid reason to be filed,” Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said in written remarks to IBJ. “All that resulted from this frivolous lawsuit was a waste of taxpayer dollars and an affirmation that the city of Lebanon followed the law precisely. I am glad we have received the court’s decision to dismiss this case with prejudice.”

City officials will continue to work with the IEDC to develop the LEAP District, he added. LEAP is short for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.

Andreoli said the landowners are considering other legal action.

In a statement, the Boone County Preservation Group, a grassroots organization opposed to the LEAP project, said the lawsuit achieved the desired impact.

“We supported this filing to force the local government to follow its own rules and ensure the correct processes were used when approving such an enormous project,” said Boone County Preservation Group member Jim Love. “Lebanon went back and corrected the issues brought in the suit, leaving the case moot. However, we got the desired outcome and hope this serves as a warning to all levels of government that they cannot cut corners in the future.”

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