Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

RACM Approves Land Use for Meat Processing Plant

While council stalled financing package, RACM okays land use change affecting Strauss Brands.

By - Oct 18th, 2019 10:23 am
Strauss Brands facility rendering. Rendering by ESI Design Services.

Strauss Brands facility rendering. Rendering by ESI Design Services.

Despite the Common Council putting a hold on financing for the deal, the plan for Strauss Brands to build a meat harvesting facility in Century City has advanced through another city board.

The board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) unanimously recommended modifying the 2005 redevelopment plan for Century City to allow “Manufacturing Intense” uses including “animal and poultry slaughter or auction facility.”

But Department of City Development (DCD) Commissioner Rocky Marcoux said those changes weren’t intended to block a facility like Strauss intends to build in the first place. “This is a meat processing operation that runs completely different from what people think a slaughterhouse would be,” said Marcoux.

“They do not source their products from feedlots. They are free range. They are grass fed. Their veal is cage free,” said the commissioner. “The company leads the industry in humane treatment of animals.”

Marcoux said he was very disappointed that the Common Council elected to hold up a land sale and $4.5 million subsidy package for the development that could bring up to 500 jobs. The company intends to build a 210,000-square-foot building with potential for expansion.

“I’ve been to the Franklin facility, there is no smell in the air,” said Marcoux. “That’s with the equipment that was older than what will be installed here. This will be state of the art.” The commissioner said the company’s well-run facility is why Franklin Mayor Steve Olson is fighting to keep the company.

DCD project manager Benji Timm said that the now modified redevelopment plan, one of approximately 60 in the city, was put into place to prevent the Milwaukee Industrial Trade Center corporation, which acquired much of the former Tower Automotive site, from putting in undesirable uses at the site. “It is a key piece in our toolbox that allows us to redevelop challenging sites,” said Timm.

“It will not be the 80-year-old facility that many of you know in the Menomonee Valley,” said Timm of Cargill’s slaughterhouse that closed in 2014. That facility included open air animal storage. Strauss proposes to house the animals on-site for only a few hours before processing in an indoor facility and would climate control the entire plant. A basement would be used to load trucks with hides, blood, manure and other waste.

Alderman Cavalier Johnson, who sits on the RACM board, went through many of the questions raised by anti-slaughter opponents in over 100 emails to the Common Council.

“What does that mean exactly though?” asked Johnson of “state of the art.”

Don Olson, vice president at ESI Design Services, said the facility would meet or exceed all current standards of the United States Department of Agriculture. He noted that many older facilities have been grandfathered in, including with odor-producing outdoor waste handling.

“The facility itself will be used for approximately 16 hours a day, about half of that is used to clean the facility. Olson said USDA employees would have an office on the building and would be on-site continuously.

Johnson also asked about odor control strategy, the potential for rodents and associated environmental impacts.

Olson noted that the waste will be handled indoors in a chilled environment and trucked offsite daily. All material handling would be done indoors to prevent odors from spreading.

The designer said rodents, about which Johnson acknowledged he gets many complaints in his far northwest side district, would be no different than any urban environment and that the USDA regulates treatment strategies near a meat processing operation.

The facility will also have its own wastewater treatment facility designed to ensure any wastewater meets Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District standards. Timm said that facility would also be used to treat runoff on the brownfield site from its former industrial uses. “That’s a step up as well,” said the brownfield specialist.

The alderman also asked about community outreach efforts to date, a key issue that came up before the council Tuesday morning.

Timm said tours of the Franklin facility were given to neighborhood association leaders, a door-to-door outreach campaign was conducted and certified mailings were sent to applicable properties regarding the proposal. He said most questions concerned odors and general questions about the facility.

The Century City project manager said a community meeting was held last night at the nearby Department of Public Works facility. “I had a chance to hear some of the feedback,” and “very little of it has been the propaganda that has been put out there,” said Timm of the dozens of project opponents that showed up at City Hall Tuesday.

Speaking of allegations that the facility would cause an increase in crime and drug use, area business improvement district Cheryl Blue said: “I don’t know where that’s coming from. I don’t understand it.” She said her father worked in a meat processing plant.

Strauss Chief Financial Officer Jerry Bussen said the firm sought out the Century City area for its potential. “One of the reasons, if not the top reason, we chose that site is it’s going to get really competitive to attract employees,” said the CFO. “If we need to grow to 500 employees, we will be able to do that without issue.” He ticked off a list including Foxconn and Amazon that would make suburban hiring of entry-level positions more difficult.

Commissioner Bill Schwartz asked about the firm’s hiring practices with regards to criminal history. Bussen responded that the firm, per its union contract, cannot consider past criminal history as a hiring factor.

The CFO also told the commission that a second phase of the project could include relocating a logistics facility in Waukesha to the site.

“If we say no to this incredible company, how am I going to market this?” asked Marcoux. Citing Palermo’s, the commissioner went on to note: “remember it was a food processor that actually led the way in the Menomonee Valley.”

“Probably in retrospect you should have done more community outreach,” said Schwartz in a message to the DCD representatives.

A special use variance must still be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals should the Common Council approve the entire package.

Frequent TIF opponent Marty Wahl was the only member of the public to speak against the land use change at the hearing.

About the Proposal

The city would sell 20 acres to the company for $1 and provide up to $4.5 million if 500 jobs are created at the site.

The proposal represents the first sizable employer that would relocate its operations to Century City since the city acquired much of the former Tower Automotive campus in 2009. Strauss is currently based in Franklin.

Strauss officials expect up to 500 animals to be processed at the facility daily. According to Strauss officials, the animals would be offloaded from trucks into an indoor facility. Waste would drop into a basement and never be stored outdoors.

The company, which will also relocate its headquarters to the facility, pays its unionized employees $13.50 to $17 per hour plus benefits.

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