NatureFresh proposes worker housing

Public hearing slated

By David J. Coehrs -

Representatives of NatureFresh Farms in Delta will attend a public hearing Feb. 7 to garner opinion about the company’s proposal to build two housing complexes for its foreign workers.

NatureFresh will request R-3 High Density Residential units in an M-2 General Industrial zoned parcel. The hearing will be held 6:30 p.m. in Delta Memorial Hall, 401 Main St.

The company determined in September it will need the dormitory-style complexes to house approximately 150 workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras who are employed on work visas 10 months of the year, said Cornelius Neufeld, NatureFresh operations manager. There are presently 55 foreign employees at the Delta site but the company expects to hire more as the site expands with three additional 15-acre greenhouses and a 55,000 square-foot distribution center. Completion of the center is expected by Oct. 1. of this year.

The complexes at 9520 U.S. 20A would cost an estimated $1 million each and would be constructed on-site off of State Highway 109, about 500 feet from U.S. 20A. Each will accommodate up to 75 people. Pending approval from the village Zoning Board of Appeals, the first building would be completed by July, the second likely within 2020.

A pole barn on NatureFresh property would be converted to a recreational space for those living in the complexes.

NatureFresh, which was annexed to the Village of Delta in 2015, would assume the entire cost of the project.

Delta Village Administrator Brad Peebles and NatureFresh representatives will present the building proposal to the village Zoning Board of Appeals at a public hearing during the Feb. 7 Village Council meeting. Peebles said he will recommend approval of a conditional use – that is, if the residential properties aren’t successful the village will be granted jurisdictional oversight on them.

“These are going to be nice complexes. They’re going to look very similar to office buildings,” Peebles said. He added, “(The company’s) growth has now taken them to a point where they need to do this.”

He said since 2016 NatureFresh has housed its foreign employees in three residences located on its 175-acre property in Fulton County and in a home the company bought on County Road 7-2 in York Township. The on-site residences would be demolished after both housing complexes were completed, and the house in York Township would be sold after the first complex was built.

Should the village zoning board deny approval of the project, “(NatureFresh will) probably continue with the same practice they’re doing now,” Peebles said.

The company already has dormitory-style housing at its base plant in Leamington, Ontario, Canada. It was toured four years ago by Peebles, Fulton County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Matt Gilroy, and Delta Village Council member Bob Gilbert.

The on-site housing allows for convenient living on the company’s property and eliminates the cost of daily transport from the York Township residence, Peebles said.

That residence was the focus of a county zoning inspection about 18 months ago, after complaints were received of overcrowding and debris on the property. Zoning inspector Steve Brown visited the house and found four or five people living there. He said questions arose as to whether the unrelated occupants could be listed under a “family” designation, and no citation was issued. The occupants were, however, told to clean up the debris.

York Township Trustee Tom Tedrow said he and fellow trustees Robert Trowbridge and Jeff Mazurowski are not happy with the current housing arrangement. “It’s not what it was intended for. It’s a residential place, not a migrant camp,” Tedrow said.

He said since the zoning inspection there have been no complaints from neighbors.

Neufeld said he’s received no public complaints about the proposed housing complexes. Peebles said he’s received one, from a Swanton resident who argued last week that housing foreign workers would change the entire culture of Fulton County.

“I told him, quite frankly, these people have been living here for three years now. They’re very cordial, they have not caused any problems, and I don’t expect them to cause any problems,” Peebles said.

He’s also heard residents express concern over the workers living in the village. He said the workers fill a need at NatureFresh, since they’re willing to harvest the company’s crop, “environmental conditions that a lot of people locally aren’t willing to endure.”

Peebles added, “I’ve never experienced (a foreign worker) that was less than very, very friendly.”

He said it’s possible the village zoning board could approve the housing complexes immediately following the public hearing.

Public hearing slated

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.