Clemens Food Group Gets Green Light for Parking Lot Expansion Amidst Pork Production Surge

In a decision marked by a contentious Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on October 18, Clemens Food Group has received approval to expand its truck parking lot at the Newton Road plant. The lot, previously a 75,400-square-foot gravel space, is being paved with asphalt millings and extended to three and a half acres.

A narrow 4-1 vote by the ZBA granted a variance from the required asphalt or concrete paving specified in the city’s industrial zoning ordinance. Work commenced this week on the expansion project, coinciding with Clemens’ efforts to increase pork production from 12,000 to 16,000 hogs per day by introducing a second shift.

Clemens project manager Andrew Knowles explained the necessity for the expansion, stating, “We’re basically busting at the seams,” referring to the use of the gravel lot, initially unapproved on the original site, to house empty trailers that would later transport packed meat. This production surge equates to a 30% increase, requiring an additional 30 semis daily for transportation. Since its inauguration in 2018, Clemens has augmented pork production at the plant by 55%.

To manage costs effectively, the company repurposed milled asphalt from parking lot repairs, emphasizing the substantial expense of using concrete or solid asphalt mandated by the ordinance, estimating a cost exceeding $1 million. Knowles also highlighted the impracticality of completing such an extensive project by the required April deadline due to winter weather constraints.

ZBA Chairman Gordon Swan, the sole dissenting vote, expressed concerns about the precedent set by allowing the variance, suggesting potential requests and lawsuits from other industrial zones seeking to avoid mandatory paving. In contrast, ZBA member Joe Hayes advocated for an individualized approach to each application.

Hayes emphasized the remote Coldwater Township location and the unique circumstances of Clemens, asserting, “This isn’t going to impact anybody else.” He urged the board to exercise “common sense” in their decision-making, asserting that strict adherence to rules might render the ZBA unnecessary.

Alternate member Jim Bilsboro, echoing environmental concerns, opposed more paving, citing an abundance of parking lots. ZBA member Gordon Eddy expressed a willingness to compromise.

Board member David Cole addressed the design specifications, noting that packed gravel topped with compacted asphalt millings provided a stable surface suitable for semis. This condition was added to the motion approving the variance, proposed by Hayes.

Hayes concluded by highlighting the industrial zoning ordinance’s lack of consideration for a project like Clemens, given its isolated location and substantial land ownership. The plant, situated on the south half of the company’s 450-acre property, faces I-69 to the west, a farm to the south, and an ITC power substation with Coldwater Board of Public Utilities property to the east.

Clemens plant manager Joe Hughes expressed gratitude to the ZBA for their efforts, emphasizing the company’s commitment to the community.