Although he was unsuccessful in his efforts to prevent or delay the Forest Park Village Council’s vote Monday to approve a plan to expand a pork processing plant in the 7400 block of Franklin Street, factory neighbor Thomas Kovac said he plans to continue to fight the expansion.
The unanimous vote establishes a planned unit development (PUD) for Farmington Foods, which produces a range of fresh, smoked and cooked meats, that will allow construction of a 13,000-square-foot addition to one of several buildings the plant occupies on the site. The Village Plan Commission had recommended approval with 11 conditions after a hearing on Dec. 7.
“We are very pleased with the unanimous decision and very grateful to proceed with our plans,” said Albert LaVelle, chief operating officer, chief financial officer and co-owner of Farmington Foods. “We are very excited about moving forward with this addition.
“We have worked very, very hard with the village and have some nice improvements planned for the property.”
LaVelle said Farmington Foods hopes to break ground within the next two weeks, weather permitting.
Kovac addressed village officials during an expanded public comment session during the council meeting, challenging the legality of the plant’s location and disputing the village’s claim that Farmington Foods had been grandfathered, which was explained by a village consultant at the Plan Commission meeting. According to JoEllen Charlton of Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, because Farmington Foods has 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.
“My neighborhood and my home are at risk by the growth of Farmington,” Kovac said. “This factory does not belong here and never should have been here.”
In addition, he cited complaints about odors, noise and truck traffic, which have increased recently, implying that such complaints will multiply if the plant is allowed to expand. Those comments were similar to those he made at the Plan Commission meeting.
He also questioned whether village officials had taken into consideration the impact the expansion will have on the village’s sewer and water systems, noting he had witnessed sewer work on several occasions during the summer.
“There was no discussion of what impact the semi-trailer traffic has had and will have on the small residential streets surrounding the factory,” Kovac said. “There was no discussion of the impact of more and more semi-trailer trucks and at all hours of the day. Also, no discussion of the additional car traffic from an even greater number of factory workers.”
Kovac also challenged comments made at the Plan Commission meeting by a Farmington Foods representative that increased activity at the plant was due to a return to pre-recession levels.
He questioned whether that statement could be supported by financial statements, work logs, water use records or government-related labor tax reporting to the state of Illinois or the federal government.
“The parking lot was usually only half full before work ended at 4 p.m.,” he said. “Now there are cars there until midnight.”
Kovac was supported at the village council meeting by four neighbors who also were in attendance, one of whom, Kim Wilhelm, also addressed village officials. Noting her house, which is across the street from the plant, has been in her family for over 100 years, she supported Kovac’s comments about odors, noise and traffic and questioned whether the process had afforded residents a sufficient opportunity to express their opinions.
“I don’t think you heard us and have given us consideration,” Wilhelm said. She also said the letter sent by the village to all neighbors of the plant regarding the planned expansion and Plan Commission meeting was “hard to understand.”
“None of us is interested in shutting out the public,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone, who also noted that the public comment session had run nearly 30 minutes despite a policy that restricts each speaker to three minutes.
“This is not the Plan Commission meeting. It is a business meeting of the Village Council. This is not a place for give and take.”
Calderone explained that the PUD approach allows the village to place more requirements on the petitioner, citing the 11 conditions. Those conditions 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 prohibited. To address lighting issues, the village will need to approve any new lighting on the grounds and window blinds will be required to be used at the facility from dusk to dawn.
Commissioner Joseph Byrnes, referring to the conditions when casting his vote, said to Farmington Foods representatives in attendance, “If you are out of line, we’ll be knocking on your door.”
“If there are issues, we want to know about them and we will address them,” Calderone said to Farmington Foods’ neighbors.
“It is hard to see what benefit actually is had by the village and its residents,” Kovac said. “Farmington Foods pays little in real estate tax and spews odor, noise, truck traffic, and visual blight across the north end of Forest Park.”
Following the meeting, Kovac said he hopes to form a citizens committee and investigate “injunctive relief.”
“I think we have legal grounds,” he added.