As of Nov. 15, a subsidiary of a firm based in China has not sought state or local permits in advance of establishing a primate breeding facility in Levy County. The primates would be made available for sale to laboratories throughout the U.S.
According to Levy County, Florida Planning and Zoning Director Stacey Hecktus in July, JOINN Laboratories CA Inc., purchased more than 1,400 acres of land worth reportedly $5.5 million from L&T Cattle and Timber. The seller company is based in Crystal River and owned by Steven and Justin Lamb. Steven Lamb has owned car dealerships in Citrus County for decades. Hecktus said that following the sale, Levy County received several informal inquiries about JOINN “citing a primate quarantine facility and/or primate research laboratory there.”
Further inquiry was received regarding changing the Land Use and Zoning of those parcels to Industrial in order to permit a laboratory and County staff responded that such a request would not receive a favorable staff recommendation for two main reasons: compatibility and creating spot zoning.
According to its Linkedin profile, JOINN Laboratories CA Inc. is the California subsidiary of a biotech firm headquartered in Beijing. Among other things, the firm provides services in animal feed and veterinary medicine evaluation, pesticide evaluation, and medical device evaluation. The proposed project immediately raised the ire of Florida animal welfare organizations including PETA Florida, and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF).
The land purchase also quickly drew opposition from Gov. Ron DeSantis, on grounds that it is an example of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s growing influence in the State.
“This proposed facility is a prime example of the type of activity that we are acting to prohibit,” remarked DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin in a written statement to Hernando Sun.
Earlier this year, DeSantis signed an executive order prohibiting state entities from procuring technology products and services from companies owned by, controlled by, or domiciled in China and other foreign countries of concern including Cuba, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or Venezuela.
In any case, even before the primate facility could be established, Levy County would have to rezone the 1,400-acre parcel to industrial use from its current forestry and rural residential use status.
In a written statement issued on Sept. 22, Levy County said that it “has not received any land use, zoning or building permit applications for such a facility, nor has the County granted any approvals for such a facility.”
Hecktus said that as of Nov. 3, the county has still not received any zoning requests pertaining to the reported project.
“Nothing has changed,” Hecktus said. “But sometimes, owners will file with the state and bypass us in the process.”
That would include permitting from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
On a statewide basis, the FWC is authorized to classify captive wildlife and to issue licenses and permits that regulate the possession, sale, and exhibition of wildlife classified under its jurisdiction.
As of Nov. 15, that agency has received no requests connected to the property, and deferred rezoning to Levy County.
“The FWC has not received zoning or construction requests for this property and would not be the permitting agency for this activity,” said FWC Public Information Coordinator Ashlee Sklute.
Until the appropriate zoning or construction permits are sought and approved, the particulars of the project remain in question.