Sparx seeks new site for slaughterhouse in Potsdam

POTSDAM — Now that a proposal to build a small-scale slaughterhouse in Canton has failed, United Helpers’s business Sparx is considering a site off Pine Street in the village.

According to a village release sent out Wednesday, the Village Board will be holding an informational meeting Monday, the focus of which will be outlining a plan to build a meat processing facility, or slaughterhouse, off Pine Street in an industrial zoning district.

The facility, which would be located on land formerly occupied by the Potsdam Hardwoods plant, would be able to “receive and process as many as 40 head of locally grown cattle per week” and include a retail store that would sell the beef products it processes. The facility would be designed according to guidelines created by University of Colorado professor of animal science Temple Grandin and aimed at humanely processing animals destined for slaughter.

Stephen E. Knight, CEO of United Helpers and president of Sparx, said Thursday that his company has not settled on a particular property for the facility yet and is still considering a few locations in Canton and Potsdam.

He said Sparx wants to make sure the community is firmly behind the project, and therefore wants to hear the concerns of village residents and consider several factors regarding water, sewer and zoning issues.

“There’s a lot of prelim work when you’re selecting a site in any town or village,” he said. “Whenever we do a facility like this, we like to share as much information as possible prior to a final decision on the location.”

Mr. Knight said Sparx is working with designers in Colorado, as well as with a local builder and a local architect, to finalize construction costs, which are undetermined at this time.

“We hope to have a hard number by the end of the month,” he said.

Mr. Knight said if the facility is built in the village, it would create between six and 10 jobs at the outset, an estimate that is subject to change as plans are finalized.

Potsdam Planning and Development Director Frederick J. Hanss said while uses like enclosed manufacturing and wholesale warehouse facilities are currently permitted in the municipality’s industrial zoning district, slaughterhouses are prohibited because of features like open air pits with debris and pastures full of noisy livestock, which such facilities used to include 50 to 60 years ago. These features posed environmental problems, which have since been solved by updates in slaughterhouse processing technology, according to Mr. Hanss, who said now is the “opportune time” to amend outdated village zoning law.

He explained that to amend the law, the property owner or a stakeholder must submit a petition in letter form to the Village Board, which could then refer it to the Planning Board for recommendation. If trustees receive a positive recommendation from the Planning Board, they could draft a local law and set a public hearing.

Originally destined for the industrial park on Commerce Lane in the village of Canton, the slaughterhouse was turned down by the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, which owns the property it would have been built on.

“The Village Board was supportive, but we never got to look at the complete package,” said Canton Village Mayor Michael E. Dalton, indicating that trustees voted to interpret coding so that slaughterhouses would only be prohibited if they “gave rise to nauseous or offensive odors.” United Helpers had promised trustees at that time that their slaughterhouse would not.

Concerning that proposal, St. Lawrence County IDA CEO Patrick J. Kelly said Thursday that he didn’t feel it was “prudent to comment” on his agency’s decision, because Sparx is in the process of considering other properties like the site in Potsdam.

“We think there’s a number of potentially viable locations,” he said. “We’ve had a number of discussions with Sparx about potential locations all over the county. We’re pleased to see them moving forward.”

A similar effort got underway in Jefferson County in November, after developer Michael E. Lundy, West Carthage, and his company Thousand Island Meats LLC were awarded a $50,000 federal grant to explore building a meat plant that could anchor a future agricultural park there.

That facility may be built at one of two sites within the town of Watertown, or at a controversial spot about 2,000 feet from air freshener manufacturer Car-Freshner. That company threatened last summer to relocate its business if the meat plant was approved, claiming that the odor it would produce would be detrimental to fragrance testing.

The public informational meeting on the proposed Potsdam slaughterhouse will take place Monday in the Civic Center board room, 2 Park St. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the meeting will include a presentation by Mr. Knight, who will outline his company’s plan for the facility. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions.

To learn more, contact Mr. Hanss by phone at 265-1670, or by email at fhanss@vi.potsdam.ny.us.

By Alan Rizzo, Times Staff Writer