A national animal rights group is suing Chandler in an attempt to stop a controversial drug-testing facility from coming to town.
The Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday. The group has been a leading opponent against global drug-testing company Covance, which has been planning an expansion into Chandler for nearly two years. The company has come under fire from animal rights groups opposed to the use of animals in laboratory testing.
The suit claims city staff and City Council members held illegal closed-door meetings with Covance representatives to discuss rezoning land near the Chandler Municipal Airport.
It also charges that Chandler violated state and city zoning laws by not providing adequate public notice for a July Planning and Zoning Commission hearing.
The suit also claims the city violated its own zoning laws by allowing a large part of the facility to be used for a kennel and veterinary clinic. The lawsuit claims such a use is not allowed under the current industrial zoning.
Plaintiffs are asking a judge to halt construction at the site — which began in early June — until the claim is decided in court. Ultimately, the lawsuit asks the court to void all building permits and city approvals relating to Covance’s project and that the entire process start over.
Eleanor Weedon, a software tester living across the street from the Covance site, said she agreed to be part of the suit after being contacted by representatives of the committee.
“There’s no way I would have purchased a home in Chandler had I known Covance was going in across the street,” she said.
Weedon said she lived in Reston, Va., when Hazelton Laboratories, which later became part of Covance, had an Ebola outbreak in the late 1980s at a quarantine facility there.
“I’m aware of the potential risks to our health and to our property values and to the quality of life here in Chandler,” she said. “So I’m totally against them being placed in a residential area.”
Also named as plaintiffs are Chandler residents Mark DeHerrera, Jennifer DeHerrera, Rickey L. Smith, Cathy Jo Ernest, Nathan Frederick Crary and Misty Row Crary.
Chandler City Attorney Michael House denied the charges and said the city will fight the lawsuit.
“Just because someone files a lawsuit doesn’t mean it has any merit or what it alleged is true,” House said. “The city disputes the plaintiffs’ allegations and will vigorously defend its position in court.”
House said the city will also fight efforts to get a court order stopping the project. “And I’m sure Covance will intervene in this litigation and oppose that,” he said.
Covance representatives had not yet seen the lawsuit Monday. The company is not named as a defendant in the suit. “We’re very confident in the process that we followed at the city’s direction,” Covance spokeswoman Camilla Strongin said. She also said the company is confident it will have its facility built on schedule. Covance expects to have the Chandler facility operating by 2009.