Slaughterhouse updates its plan to move to Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Livestock has at least temporarily put on hold plans to build a new slaughterhouse and meat-cutting facility in Middlebury’s industrial park, and is instead seeking to move those operations into an existing building in that same area.
The Ferrisburgh-based company has filed an application with Middlebury’s planning office calling for Vermont Livestock to redevelop and occupy approximately two-thirds of the 31,174-square-foot building at 183 Industrial Ave., owned by Anthony Neri.
It’s a building Neri constructed around a decade ago in anticipation of accommodating Endicott Contract Manufacturing, formerly based in Bristol. But the company chose a different path, leaving Neri with the chore of finding other occupants. The structure was most recently used for storage space by Vermont Hard Cider, which is building a new facility of its own off Middlebury’s Exchange Street.
“I would rent it to (Vermont Livestock) and they would have the option to buy,” Neri said of the deal he hopes to finalize with the company and its leader, Carl Cushing.
Vermont Livestock has, for several years, been looking to grow its operations into more modern and spacious accommodations. The company has been operating out of its Depot Street facility — originally built as an icehouse during the early 1900s — in Ferrisburgh for the past half-century. But Ferrisburgh’s difficult clay soils have become a growing problem for on-site wastewater disposal for larger businesses like VL. The Castanea Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to support state agriculture, has been helping VL in its search and expansion efforts.
It was during the spring of 2012 that VL sought (and was granted) permission by the Middlebury Development Review Board to build a new, 11,442-square-foot slaughter and meat-processing facility on a 5.1-acre parcel at 62 Industrial Ave., across from Beau Ties Ltd. Vermont Livestock then spent several months trying to put together a financing package to make the new building a reality.
After months went by without a groundbreaking, Neri approached Cushing to see if he’d consider moving into his 183 Industrial Ave. building. Cushing took a shine to the idea.
“The potential for growth is significant,” Cushing said of the slaughter and meat-cutting industry in Vermont. The state’s handful of slaughterhouses have been hard pressed to keep pace with demand for Vermont-raised beef, pork and other proteins. The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center — also located in the Middlebury industrial park — has launched a meat-cutting curriculum. Vermont Livestock recently hired three of its graduates. Cushing anticipates an ongoing educational collaboration with the career center if it can pin down its Middlebury location.
“We would rather go into a place where we can grow, rather than expand a facility we’ve already built,” Cushing explained.
Vermont Livestock has assembled a team of architects and engineers to determine how the Neri building could be renovated to accommodate slaughter and meat-cutting activities. The VL project narrative on file at the Middlebury planning office states the structure would need to be divided into three main areas: Animal pens, processing, and office/employee functions.
Site improvements would include a new, one-way interior access drive around the north and west sides of the facility to make for more efficient pick-ups and deliveries, and the addition of an exterior grease trap and sampling manhole for the facility’s existing wastewater facility.
Cushing said that moving into the Neri building would not necessarily be less costly than building something new.
“It’s basically a warehouse right now,” he said.
But if VL pursues the project, it would bring jobs and other assets to the community, supporters said.
Cushing anticipates 11 workers would initially staff the new facility, nine of them full-timers and two part-timers. That’s the same number of workers at VL’s Ferrisburgh location. Cushing expects the Middlebury workforce to grow to 16 full-timers and two part-timers during the next “three or four years.” In addition to the VL workers, there would be two full-time USDA inspectors on-site during regular hours of operation (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays).
Vermont Livestock would receive livestock deliveries one day per week, with an expansion to two per week as the operation grows, according to the project narrative. Livestock would be unloaded into a “secured unloading area, typically in 16-foot livestock trailers,” according to the application. Supplies would be delivered every two weeks.
No retail activities are planned at the facility, according to the application. There would typically be three commercial pick-ups daily (Monday through Friday) by such vendors as Black River Produce, and up to 10 producer pick-ups by farm growers daily, Monday through Friday, with around a half-dozen pick-ups on Saturdays.
Cushing on Monday was still crunching numbers on the potential VL move into the Neri building.
“Our intent at this point is to go into the Neri building, but we have not given up completely with (building something new),” Cushing said.
Middlebury Zoning Administrator Ted Dunakin said his office could administratively issue VL the permit it needs to proceed with the Neri building option. That means no public hearing would be required. Barring objections, the town would simply transfer the conditions it imposed on VL’s previously approved application for a new facility. The administrative permit could be issued as soon as Thursday, June 20, according to Dunakin.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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