The proposal to build a pork packing plant a half-mile down the road from the town movie theater dismays its neighbors, but the use fits in with city plans for the area and will only require Turlock Planning Commission approval to move forward.
“A hog slaughterhouse in the middle of town – it’s ridiculous,” said Frances Heidrich, who lives on the same street, Dianne Drive. Heidrich said she is preparing a petition to show neighborhood opposition to the plant.
Across the street from the planned plant, SubHerb Farms President Matt Reid said he is studying food safety issues that might affect their frozen culinary herbs, pastes and purees. “We don’t have a stance at this time. We’re evaluating,” Reid said.
But project applicant Michael Lau said the plant will be a good neighbor. “We have proposed a state-of-the art facility. We plan to be good stewards,” he said. “We welcome the opportunity to talk with neighbors.”
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Neighbors should be asking questions now, said Debra Whitmore, the city’s deputy director of development services. “It’s good to have questions at this point in the process. It allows us to be much more detailed in looking at this,” she said.
So far, none of the standard reviews have pulled up any red flags, she noted. The use is ag-related and fits zoning regulations; the traffic expected meets zoning guidelines, and the air quality review submitted by the applicant predicted no odors or significant health risks. But, she said, it is clear from the outcry that more education is needed.
There are no live animals in this business park.
Matt Reid, president of SubHerb Farms
“This is an industrial area, and this is the difficulty of transition from what was there, and what is intended to be there,” Whitmore said. The conditional use permit hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5 by the Turlock Planning Commission, though Whitmore said the department’s review could push that to a later date.
The area is part of the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, a 2,165-acre swath hugging the western edge of Highway 99 from Fulkerth Road to Linwood Avenue and extending west to Washington Road. Lau said the in-city location was chosen because it fell in the industrial park.
“It was on the west side of the city of Turlock, within the confines of where they want industry to grow,” he said.
“This is ag production,” Whitmore said, even if the idea of animal processing causes some squeamishness. “We like to eat bacon and we like to eat pork shoulder, but we don’t always like to think about how it gets there,” she said.
The proposed Capital Cultivators LLC plant, which environmental documents say would process 400 tons of meat per year, is planned for 10 acres fronting Dianne Drive now mostly taken up by cornfields. A 5-acre parcel extending to West Main will not be developed in the first phase, Lau said.
An extended statement of intent says the plant would process up to 3,500 hogs a day, most trucked in from Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Montana. Lau said that would be at full capacity, not the first year. Pigs would be killed within 24 hours of arriving at the facility, he said, with wastewater processed on site and disposed of through the sewer system.
Everything has to be sanitary and clean to have a quality product.
Michael Lau, project applicant
The 102,000-square-foot plant would add up to 200 permanent jobs, planning documents say. However, the air quality report anticipates only 121 staff and customer vehicles driving in each day. Operations would run from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, with 10 large truck deliveries a day coming in around the clock.
The plant’s arrival would provide a stop light on West Main Street at the foot of Dianne Drive, planners note, directly in front of Northern Refrigerated Inc., a cold storage and transportation firm with frequent truck traffic.
Other projects going up in the area include a powdered milk processing plant, a brewery, a hatchery, walnut processing expansion and a variety of storage structures.
About a dozen modest homes remain on Dianne Drive, most surrounded by corn or almond orchards. Homeowner Lowell Pierce said he has lived there for 40 years, and realizes development is coming. “It’s to be expected and we welcome most of it,” he said.
But Pierce opposes what he calls a kill plant. “When you’re talking about slaughtering of live animals, you’re bringing in a whole load of other things,” he said, ticking off odors, manure, wastewater and big trucks driving the curbless two-lane road that is Dianne Drive today.
“My issue is this isn’t the right time or the right place for this,” he said.
51 Pounds of pork eaten by the average American per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Heidrich is not so sanguine about industry moving in, angrily denouncing the changes happening around her. “It’s insane. All our homes will be worthless,” she said.
However, the homes, most appraised by the Stanislaus County tax assessor in the $180,000 to $250,000 range, sit on land now potentially worth far more.
In December, a 10-acre lot with a small house sold for $600,000 acording to www.Zillow.com. A 10.8-acre lot on the east side of Dianne with West Main frontage is listed for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million and across West Main owners of 5.8-acre lot are asking $2.35 million. The two parcels linked to the meat processing plant are listed as owned by a trust with a $1.1 million joint sale pending.
Less than a mile north on Dianne stands the emerging frame of the Dust Bowl Brewing Co. brewery and restaurant, with alfresco dining. Dust Bowl owners declined to be interviewed, but issued a statement saying, “We’re confident the city will ensure all processes are followed in developing the industrial corridor.”
This is not a rendering plant. A rendering plant is very different from a modern-day processing plant.
Debra Whitmore, deputy director of Development Services
The eatery sits upwind of the processing plant for most of the year. “Predominantly the wind is from the northwest to southeast, averaging 5 mph, except for a period in the winter, November to January, (when) it will blow from the southeast to northwest,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Courtney Obergfell, drawing from wind records kept by the Modesto City-County Airport.
Odor was a key concern voiced by residential neighbors, but the analysis by air-permitting specialists concluded the meat processing plant would not generate any off-site odors, as operations would be inside the building.
The report, provided by Capital Cultivators as part of its application, goes on to say that a similar plant operated by Capital Cultivators in Modesto has no odors. The address given is that of Yosemite Meat Co., which lists itself as founded in 1981 by John and Gay Lau and family-owned.
A $1 million donation from the Lau family to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was used to build the university’s J and G Lau Family Meat Processing Center, finished in 2011
But the concerns of SubHerb Farms have more to do with particulate drift, microscopic specs spread by unsealed trucks passing by, the plant’s ventilation system or misting systems for pigs on hot days. Reid said his firm has retained a lawyer to study its options.
“Airborne pathogens are a concern for us,” he said.
Lau said plans include multiple dust mitigation measures. “This will be a safe, environmentally conscious facility. We need clean, healthy animals to have a quality product,” he said.
“We’re not here to cause problems,” Lau said.