On Feb. 1, the Plan Commission approved, with conditions, a proposed addition for Farmington Foods. The two-story addition will be located between, and connecting, the main building and a smaller one-story brick garage building. A roof deck will also be added on a portion of the existing roof to provide a space for employee breaks. The total addition will be approximately a 5.8% increase from the existing building area footprint, according to the proposed plan documents from Farmington Foods.
Village zoning regulations consider any new construction that increases lot coverage by 5% or more a major PUD amendment, which necessitates approval by the Plan Commission and village council.
According to Peter Friedman, legal counsel for Farmington, in a presentation during the meeting, the new construction will not be detrimental to surrounding properties in any say; it will not endanger public health, welfare, or safety in any way; it will not be used for anything not allowed in the I-1 zoning district; and, among other standards Farmington laid forth, it will not cause the hiring of additional employees, so off-street parking requirements will not change.
As Friedman explained, the addition is necessary because when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the food chain was impacted. Retail and home consumption of products made at Farmington increased, while restaurant needs decreased, changing packaging requirements, which in turn has necessitated a reconfiguration of equipment in order to meet the evolving needs within the food industry.
Farmington, which has been at its current location since 1972, is a food production facility. According to Farmington’s planned development documents, “Farmington continues to process raw and fully cooked pork, beef, poultry and vegetables for human consumption.” All of their production, according to Farmington, is in compliance with zoning regulations and the 2015 Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement, which was approved unanimously by the village council.
The Feb. 1 meeting seemed simple on paper. Farmington was asking for a relatively small addition to their property that needed Plan Commission approval before a final vote by the village council. But longtime outspoken resident Thomas Kovac, who lives across the street from Farmington, and his attorney Tim Buckley, spoke during the meeting, citing alleged violations of the original PUD and of zoning regulations in town.
Kovac has for years complained about conditions at Farmington that affect him, including noise from trucks and the smell of processing meat. In fact, Kovac is currently involved in litigation with Farmington Foods over alleged violations of the 2015 PUD.
During the meeting, he became emotional.
“That man has ruined my life,” he said of Albert La Valle, COO and CFO of Farmington, who was present at the meeting. “I have stink; I have smoke; I have noise. It is awful for me and my immediate neighbors. … We can’t stand it anymore.”
Plan Commission Chair Paul Barbahen interrupted Buckley at one point, saying that the meeting that night was only to amend the PUD, not to entertain a history of complaints over the years. “I will rule that out of order,” Barbahen said.
Buckley argued that his client’s objections are in relation to the original PUD, and if it’s currently being amended, other violations should be taken into consideration too. Buckley said that, for example, adding smoking ovens in 2016 was in violation of the original PUD; putting them in should have been considered a major change, which would have needed public vetting, but that never happened.
Barbahen countered that with no evidence or proof, all Buckley is doing is making an allegation. He added that Kovac has been asked several times to cease emailing or communicating with the commissioners since all communications should be done publicly, but Kovac has refused to do so.
A letter from other residents on the block was read, and it expressed concerns similar to Kovac’s, that there would be more noise, more odors and lights, and that it would be harder for the owners to attract renters to their extra unit.
The meeting took a turn when Public Health and Safety Director Steve Glinke, who oversees zoning for the village, spoke.
Glinke said he is called upon to investigate quality-of-life issues for residents, and emails, which included photos and videos, prove that there are some issues related to Farmington’s operations that are causing problems for residents. Trucks idling in the middle of the night, for example, shouldn’t be allowed, Glinke said, but is something he’s seen evidence of happening.
“There are legitimate complaints about trucks running after hours,” Glinke said. He added that landscaping, part of the original PUD, hasn’t been effective and most of it has died. Complaints, he said, “have been objectively verified. They are not chronic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is happening.”
Glinke and Courtney Kashima, village planner, suggested that the commission vote to approve the expansion with five conditions, which village staff will work on with Farmington over the next month, at which time the village council will get the final vote. The conditions are related to alleged violations from the original PUD, including: idling trucks, truck hours and traffic, screening (such as greenery or fencing), deck light and noise, and cooking hours.
Friedman said, “We strongly disagree with 99 percent of the assertions made tonight.”
After the meeting, Glinke said that addressing original PUD violations in the current expansion “is a cleaner way to handle it. Our goal is to try to get the neighbors and Farmington to live in harmony, and this will provide the best legal protection for residents and the village.”
Kovac responded after the meeting via email that because of ongoing issues with Farmington violating the terms of the PUD, such as installing additional cooking ovens and failing to fully shield or contain their trucks as required by village code, their project shouldn’t be considered.
“Given this very major ongoing violation of the concealment-screening zoning requirements, there should not be allowed any plant expansion whatsoever of any kind,” Kovac wrote. “Our lives in this neighborhood are harmed almost every day by Farmington activities.”