WESTBROOK – Idexx Laboratories wants to build a $50 million headquarters building and hire about 500 employees to help fill it, but will do so in Westbrook only if the city adopts zoning that the owner of a neighboring quarry says will shut down its operation.
The quarry operator, Pike Industries, “drives business out of the (industrial) park” where Idexx and Pike are located, said Jonathan Ayers, chief executive officer of Idexx. “That’s not a good place to put an investment.”
Ayers said that if the Five Star Industrial Park is not rezoned for light industrial uses, which would preclude quarrying, Idexx will find another place for its new office building.
He said Idexx’s current facility in Westbrook — which has a mix of offices, laboratories and manufacturing and is near the end of a $75 million renovation and expansion program — will remain, regardless of where the new building goes.
Ayers said the company has not contacted any communities about building outside of Westbrook, but Idexx must decide within a couple of months to stay on track with its plan to break ground in 2011 and open the building 2012.
Tuesday’s announcement presented a carrot and a stick for Westbrook.
The Planning Board has endorsed the new, more restrictive zoning for the industrial park. The decision rests with the City Council, but Mayor Colleen Hilton has appointed a committee that may propose a compromise, such as limits on Pike’s operations or more buffering between the quarry and nearby buildings in the industrial park.
Ayers said Idexx, a fast-growing, multinational biotechnology company that provides veterinary products and services, needs the new building to accommodate growth.
He said the company also would like to consolidate its operations. Four hundred employees now work at two other sites in Westbrook, and the company would prefer to have all of them at one site.
He denied that the timing of the announcement was driven by the fact that the zoning issue is expected to go to the City Council next month, but made clear that the company has no interest in building the new offices in Westbrook without some change to Pike’s quarrying operation.
Pike, which blasts rock and trucks it to plants that turn it into asphalt and concrete, responded a few hours after Idexx announced its plan.
Pike said it had already shelved plans for asphalt and concrete plants in the industrial park and would agree to limit blasting to 20 times a year instead of the 25 allowed under a city permit issued last year.
Tony Buxton, Pike’s lawyer, said Idexx’s expansion plan is just a rehash of a proposal it made two years ago, timed to influence the City Council.
“The rezoning that Idexx has written would have the effect of shutting down Pike, and that’s what Idexx intended,” he said. “There really is no future for either of us shutting the other down.”
Buxton said the committee appointed by Hilton can come up with ways to make blasting and trucking operations less intrusive, but Idexx must cooperate in the effort to find a compromise.
“It would be ironic if a company of scientists were to not rely on science to solve a technical matter,” Buxton said. “It’s not apparent why we cannot co-exist.”
Hilton praised Idexx’s plan in a company-issued news release but was noncommittal Tuesday afternoon, saying she wants to give the committee time to try to find a solution.
“There are some possibilities to mitigate some of the issues that have been raised around the quarry,” she said. “We’re just trying to balance all the competing issues.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]