Residents living on Franklin Street and Circle Avenue on the north end of Forest Park hope they will be able to work with the village and a local food processing company to correct a number of quality-of-life issues before the company potentially expands its facilities this year.
Farmington Foods, a pork processing company that produces a range of fresh, smoked and cooked meats, wants to build an additional 13,000-square-foot processing facility at its location, which currently occupies multiple buildings in the 7400 block of Franklin Street.
But neighbors of the company told the Village Plan Commission, Monday night, that they are concerned over the possibility of the company expanding if it means increased truck traffic, noise and especially odor.
Thomas Kovac said that when he moved into the neighborhood in 2011, noise and other issues associated with Farmington were at a minimum. However, he said, recently he noticed a significant increase in noise from the facility at all hours of the night, the smell of decaying meat and bright lights from the facility and its trucks shining into his house, which is located across the street. Kovac said a chain link fence in front of Farmington Foods and what landscaping currently exists to shield neighbors from the plant are woefully inadequate.
“They don’t have leaves half the year,” Kovac said of the current landscaping.
He described regularly hearing truck traffic shuttle back and forth between the plant’s buildings and headlights shining in his windows. Both make getting a night’s rest difficult to the point he said he can no longer sleep in the home’s front bedroom.
“Our [prior] experience with the factory is a lot different than what it has become,” he said.
At the plan commission meeting Monday, several residents described not being able to enjoy their outdoor spaces due to noise from the plant, as well as the occasional odor of refuse meat and its byproducts that one resident said “reeks.”
“When they clear out that fat and they dump the fat … the smell is incredible,” resident Kim Wilhelm said, adding that there were times she couldn’t open her windows because of the stench, to which other residents nodded in agreement.
Residents in attendance at the meeting agreed the noise and traffic seemed to have increased in the last year especially.
However, village consultant JoEllen Charlton, of Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, said complaints against Farmington Foods were relatively few — and complaints about odor issues, she said, were quickly rectified after the village contacted the owners.
Charlton said that if the meat processing facility wanted to move to its current location today, “it wouldn’t be entertained.” But because the company had been in business at the location for over 30 years, it preceded many of the village’s current zoning regulations and was essentially grandfathered in.
To address residents’ issues, village staff added 11 conditions to the expansion. These include adding tall, evergreen landscaping at various points around the facility, and, if future changes are made to fencing, the company will be required to utilize ornamental fencing, with wood or chain link fences being prohibited. To address lighting issues, the village will need to approve any new lighting on the grounds and window blinds are required to be used at the facility from dusk to dawn.
Farmington Foods’ architect for the project, Zenon Kurdziel of Ridgeland Associates Inc., told residents that some of their issues would be alleviated by the construction of the new building facility. Kurdziel said the increase in traffic and work at the facility is likely due to a lull in business the company experienced for several years during the recession. Now, he said, business is beginning to return.
Kurdziel told residents and commissioners that the facility will direct truck traffic away from residents’ homes to the northwest side of the lot and further shield it behind the new building. The new facility will be connected to an existing structure where the company’s products are cooked, which will then enter a deep-freeze system in the new building and be packaged and stored. This, he said, will eliminate about 50 percent of the traffic noise on the grounds due to there being less need for the company to shuttle products between its buildings.
By working with the village on the conditions, Kurdziel told residents he believed the landscaping plans would block more light and noise. He said Farmington Foods from the beginning had told him to make consideration for the neighborhood a priority in creating any plans.
Ultimately, Charlton told commissioners, if the expansion plans were not approved, things would only continue as they were now. Approval, she said, would allow the village to put in the conditions and try to correct some of the issues residents expressed.
Commissioners Diane Brown, Kevin Harnett and Chair Paul Barbahen voted unanimously to approve the expansion application along with the village’s conditions. The issue will next go to the village council for final approval. The company hopes to begin building as soon as possible, weather permitting, to open the new facility by spring.
Following the meeting, residents said they had mixed feelings. Wilhelm said she felt that if the conditions were put into place, followed by Farmington and enforced by the village, many of their concerns would be alleviated. However, she said, she had not heard anything that addressed the odor issue.
Charlton said this was because the village felt that Farmington Foods addressed odor issues when notified and a specific condition related to smell was not required.
Kovac said although aspects of Farmington Food’s unique zoning situation were grandfathered in, he still believed that the company was in violation of the regulations against noise and odor that they were governed by. But, he said, he felt he was influential in getting the company to address some of his concerns, particularly with lighting.
Wilhelm said she felt residents’ ideal outcome could be easily summed up: If the company’s owners were living across the street from Farmington Foods, what considerations would they want?