Union Twp. OKs zoning change for local company

Zoning board members approved a conditional use permit at the former DuPont Pioneer research facility to allow light manufacturing, provided Sutphen Corp. is the new tenant. Champaign County economic development officials have been pushing for the change because DuPont left the facility about a year ago, and it has been vacant since.

But Sutphen has expressed interest in the site, and is in negotiations with Pioneer to lease the 25,000-square-foot facility, said Terry Howell. The change was needed in order to get the property back in use, he said. The deal still hinges on whether Sutphen can reach an agreement with Pioneer.

“The facility is there,” Howell said. “We’re not going to go back and make it prairie grass.”

The $1.8 million facility was built specifically for Pioneer and was zoned for a conditional use that would only allow companies that conduct research on corn and soybeans could operate at the facility, he said. Under the new permit, only Sutphen will be allowed to use the property. Officials from Sutphen could not be reached for comment.

If the agreement between Sutphen and Pioneer falls through, any new user would have to request a new zoning change.

Sutphen, which makes fire trucks and other firefighting equipment, has outgrown its Springfield facility and could move as many as 25 workers to the Union Twp. site, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership.

No specific numbers have been discussed, but Howell said the company would likely create some new jobs in Springfield if a deal is finalized.

“Sutphen wants to expand and they have more business, and they’re out of space where they are,” Howell said.

Howell had sought a zoning change in December last year, but that was turned down because zoning officials in the township wanted to know who would be using the property before approving the request. At the time, that was not possible, Bailey said. DuPont continues to lease the site in the meantime.

“It’s a big deal for an end user to come forward when they’re just looking because they run the risk that the community or another community knows they are looking,” Bailey said. “It was taking a lot of risk for Sutphen to come out and be a part of that, but that also shows they need to make a decision and they need to move on. It made us more aware we needed to do something to help them so that we didn’t lose them.”

The deal could also benefit the Triad Local School District, which could potentially receive additional income tax dollars from the new jobs in the district, Bailey said.

Howell is also seeking a long-term zoning change that would allow light manufacturing at the site for a more broad variety of companies, to prevent a similar problem in the future.

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