A rendering plant that has been an aromatic nuisance to its west Fresno neighbors for decades could be on the verge of relocating and expanding on a site several miles away.
The Fresno City Council will vote Thursday on a development agreement and other issues that would enable Darling Ingredients to move its rendering plant from its site of more than 60 years on Belgravia Avenue, near Church and Fruit avenues. The plant receives animal by-products – bones, scraps and other leftovers from local slaughterhouses and meat packing plants – and grinds, cooks and processes them into products such as ingredients for animal feed.
The company is the target of a lawsuit filed by neighbors five years ago because of their complaints of odors and potential health hazards to nearby residents. But neighbors’ efforts to force the plant to move have gone on for decades, said Ashley Werner, an attorney for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, representing Concerned Citizens of West Fresno.
The council’s public hearing on the issue is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Fresno City Hall.
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This is a really big step. ... It’s not appropriate to have a meat rendering plant in the middle of the community.
Ashley Werner, attorney representing west Fresno residents near the Darling Ingredients plant
“This is a really big step. The council’s vote would provide authorization and an agreement with Darling to allow them to move forward with a new plant and closure of the existing plant,” Werner said. “This is exactly the resolution that Concerned Citizens of West Fresno has been working toward for many years. It’s not appropriate to have a meat rendering plant in the middle of the community.”
If the development agreement is approved, the city would give Texas-based Darling about 20 acres of land at Jensen and Cornelia avenues, adjacent to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. It’s a little more than three miles from the Belgravia site. As additional incentives to the company, the city also proposes to rebate property taxes on the new site to Darling, as well as sales taxes for equipment that the company buys locally to equip a new plant.
Darling will also get a break on development fees and building permit fees on a new plant.
City Councilman Oliver Baines, whose District 3 includes the current Darling site, said a deal between the company and the city has been in the negotiating stages for several years. “There’s still a few more pieces that have to fall into place, but I’m very excited,” Baines said. “Thursday is going to be a very special day.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Baines added. “Darling has been a great partner to work with on this project. … This is probably the most complicated project I’ve ever had to put together.”
What we were always striving for was a win-win scenario. The company gets its needs met and the community gets its needs met.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines
One key hurdle is for the company to secure federal New Market Tax Credits to help the deal make economic sense. Former City Manager Bruce Rudd, who remains on the city’s staff as an interim department director, said he anticipates that Darling will apply for the tax credits in the spring. “Everything pivots on them getting about $9 million in credits to buy down the cost of the project,” Rudd said.
Presuming everything coalesces, Rudd said the company could submit building plans for the new site next spring and receive building permits a couple of months later. The company has told the city that construction could take 18 to 24 months – a schedule that would put an opening of the new plant in late 2019 or in 2020.
Once the plant becomes operational, Darling would have six months to shut down its Belgravia plant. “They are not required to demolish the building, but the underlying zoning of the property … reverts back to office space, so it will never be a rendering plant again,” Rudd said.
Also on Thursday, the City Council will vote on adopting a new Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, a set of planning and zoning rules for west Fresno with a goal of setting the stage for future residential, commercial and economic development. Getting the Darling plant out of the way, Werner said, will help with that effort.
“It’s a huge opportunity for west Fresno to have true economic development that’s not impeded by the impacts of having a rendering plant in the middle of the community,” she said. “The Southwest Specific Plan is really positioning west Fresno to see a transformation in neighborhood conditions.”
Baines said the deal represents a good faith effort by all three sides of the controversy. “What we were always striving for was a win-win scenario,” he said. “The company gets its needs met and the community gets its needs met.”