After lengthy conversation and debate between Farmington Foods representatives and village staff, the village council voted unanimously on April 12 to continue the hearing on Farmington Food’s expansion project until the next council meeting on April 26. The company is located at 7419 Franklin St.
Farmington Foods CFO and COO Al La Valle and attorney Peter Friedman reached an impasse with village staff over some restrictions and requirements in the proposed ordinance. Friedman asked for the continuance so more time could be spent by the two entities working out the details.
The proposed expansion is for an approximately 8,666 square foot two-story addition that will connect two existing structures on the southeastern part of the site, according to a memo from Steve Glinke, Forest Park’s director of building, planning and zoning.
During the April 12 village council meeting, Farmington’s La Valle said the addition was driven “by market forces triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Customer demand for Farmington’s retail grocery market products has grown while demand for restaurant products has decreased, La Valle said. These products require different packaging and machinery configurations, and additional space on the first floor will allow the company to better handle these adjustments.
The first floor will also include a conference room and an ADA accessible elevator. Offices will be housed on the second floor. Plans also include a rooftop deck.
“That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less,” La Valle said. “We seek no variations or other zoning relief. We will continue to comply with all these zoning and other related regulations that apply to our property and our business.”
Glinke said, “As a matter of record, I don’t think that their addition is a big deal.”
What needed addressing, he said, is that the business has grown and expanded over the past 10 years. As a result, “activity on the site has increased exponentially over the last decade,” said Glinke, and complaints related to that activity are largely reported during the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Therefore, conditions had been added to the expansion ordinance in order to prevent “the growth of the company without the recognition that the neighbors are deserving of some, you know, semblance of quiet enjoyment,” said Glinke.
The conditions were based on resident complaints and on discussion during the Feb. 1 plan commission meeting, at which time the commission approved the project with provisions to be worked out between Farmington Foods and village staff.
Those conditions are related to five issues: idling trucks, truck hours and traffic, fencing along Franklin Street, potential noise and light issues from the proposed roof deck, and the odor from meat cooked in the factory.
However, despite ongoing talks between the village and Farmington Foods since the Feb. 1 plan commission meeting, agreement could not be reached during the April 12 meeting on changes Farmington Foods wanted to several of the 18 village-proposed conditions and restrictions.
The biggest sticking point was in regard to truck traffic and noise, including truck transports between buildings on the property, truck refrigerator units running at loading docks, and idling trucks on Franklin Street and Circle Avenue. The proposed village ordinance would prohibit these allegedly noisy occurrences between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Farmington Foods objected to the restrictions, especially that relating to trucks running between buildings. They suggested changing the language so instead of a strict prohibition between certain hours the company would take “reasonable measures to minimize truck transports.”
Completely disallowing truck traffic during the overnight hours, said La Valle, would be disastrous to their operations.
“It’s an absolute requirement and necessity… for us to be able to move between [the buildings] between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. … We’ve minimized it to the extent possible, but for it to go to zero handcuffs us to a point that we can’t operate,” La Valle said.
Fencing along Franklin Street was another area of disagreement between the village and Farmington Foods. Currently, a chain-link fence does nothing in terms of visual or noise screening, so the village wrote a requirement that the chain link fence be removed and replaced with a combination of open and infilled wrought iron-like fencing, open around the entrances to provide visibility for vehicles. The fence must screen portions of the property that are beyond 15 feet from the entrances to the property.
Farmington, however, wants that changed to 25 feet.
Another village requirement is that Farmington Foods identify a “Community Contact Representative” with a 24-hour-phone number, responsible for receiving, monitoring and responding to messages and complaints.
“The simple fact that we have to say you need to have a complaint line internally I think is sort of indicative of the lack of skin that Farmington has in the game here,” Glinke said. He added: “This is a process that has consumed a tremendous amount of staff and consultant hours here … I get a lot of complaints. There’s probably not five single addresses in Forest Park that have consumed more staff time than Farmington has in the last couple of years.”
La Valle claimed he was unaware of resident complaints and that Farmington strives to address issues as soon as they’re made aware of them. He was, however, present at the most recent plan commission meeting during which at least two residents expressed their upset over problems they allegedly have experienced because of Farmington’s operations, including truck noise.
La Valle said the company has received zero citations for noise, and he was “disappointed” to hear the complaints from Glinke at the meeting. “It was my belief that we were being a good neighbor,” said La Valle.
“I’m stunned that I’m being vilified by the fact that I haven’t written you tickets,” said Glinke. “If that’s what you’re asking, I’m happy to do it.” He said he preferred to work things out through “simple communication and collaboration.”
Resident Nicola Hale, who lives in close proximity to Farmington, submitted a letter for public comment at the April 12 village council meeting.
“Farmington has not been a good neighbor and has not once reached out to neighbors to ask how they can be better neighbors,” wrote Hale.
In regard to noise from trucks, she said she’s been told to call the police, but when she learned there was only one employee working in illegal ticketing, she stopped calling.
“And to be honest,” she wrote, “it seems like the police have more pressing work to do in the village. We have lived here for over 25 years and the problems [with Farmington Foods] have been ongoing and increasing each year.”
Farmington Foods has operated in Forest Park since 1972, according to a statement from the company in support of the addition. Today they process raw and fully cooked pork, beef, poultry and vegetables for human consumption. They employ over 150 people at the Forest Park location.
Note: This article was edited on April 22 to reflect Al La Valle’s correct titles of CFO and COO rather than CEO, as the article originally referred to him.