Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the city is in process of finalizing an interlocal agreement with Alachua County over a proposed meat processing plant to share the 93-acre property Newberry purchased for a new wastewater facility.
Newberry bought the land in 2021 to build a new wastewater treatment facility. The facility, which is about to enter the engineering design phase, is expected to take up 35 to 40 acres of the property.
The city is also considering what else might be located on the land and has set aside 15 acres for what Marlowe describes as a “very small regional plant” for meat processing, which has been proposed by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).
“I have generally found the bulk of the concern is about the phrase ‘meat packing,’” Marlowe said. “We say ‘meat packing’ and you see this big 1,000 head a day kind of operation.”
But Marlowe said the proposed operation would be much smaller, serving small cattle farms in the area with 50 to 100 cows in the herds. The farmers would drop their cows at the facility in the morning and pick up their processed meat that afternoon.
“We’re conceiving of holding pens that would hold the cows for one day,” Marlowe said. “Generally, the smells and odors that happen [with processing facilities] are when you hold the cows for weeks at a time and you’re feeding them.”
In addition to the meat processing plant, Newberry is looking at adding a county recycling center and a fire training facility. Life Soils, which is a private company, would like to use part of the acreage to take waste from the wastewater facility and turn it into environmentally friendly compost.
Marlowe discussed the city’s plans for the wastewater property at Monday’s Newberry Planning and Zoning Board meeting. At the meeting, the board voted to approve the city’s request to change the land use and zoning on 96 acres that includes the Newberry Environmental Park from agricultural use to public facilities use.
The city has recently adopted a public facilities zoning district and is in the process of rezoning some of its approximately 55 city-owned properties to the public facilities zoning, said Jean-Paul Perez, Newberry’s principal planner.
“By having this zoning package, it says that what the city is doing is contemplating having public facilities,” Marlowe said at the meeting. “We put ourselves through the exact same thing that we put private businesses through. [With the rezoning to public facilities] we open it up for more public hearings, and more opportunities for public comment and engagement in an effort to increase transparency.”
The Newberry City Commission will take up the land use change and the rezoning on several pieces of city-owned property at its meeting on March 13.
And because the Newberry Environmental Park for the wastewater plant was on the agenda to have its land use and zoning altered, several Newberry residents showed up at the meeting to ask questions about the potential meat processing facility.
Marlowe told residents that COVID had shown a gap in the agricultural system because local farmers had herds they would have sold but couldn’t because they couldn’t get anyone to process the meat.
The BOCC had brought the meat processing plant to Newberry with the idea that Newberry would supply land for it in return for the county fixing County Road 337, Marlowe said.
The BOCC also has approved spending $2.5 million of its remaining federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) distribution to support the project, which has involved discussions with both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the UF Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).
State lawmakers, including Sen. Keith Perry, R-District 9, and Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 22, are working to get a state match for the county’s $2.5 million.
Marlowe said that the city was still in the discussion phases and that there were “off ramps” in the agreements if Newberry didn’t want to move forward with a meat processing plan on their property.
“Generally, people love to say to elected officials, ‘If you think this is a good idea, go put it in your yard,’” Marlowe said. “This is in my front yard, and I’m willing to continue this exploration because this is going to be so vital to our farmers and their ability to make money that I think it is worth continuing to explore having this literally in my front yard.”
The BOCC is expected to take up the interlocal agreement at its April 4 meeting and Newberry will discuss it at either its March 27 or April 10 meeting, Marlowe said.
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