Sundance Estates residents oppose zoning for sausage factory

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By Rachel Madison
It was standing room only at Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as about 100 residents from Sundance Estates came to voice their disapproval of a potential sausage manufacturing company being built in front of their neighborhood.

John Byrum, the City’s director of planning, said the request was submitted on behalf of property owner Lookout Partners LP to rezone approximately 4.498 acres out of a total of 6.7496 acres it owns to allow for the construction of a sausage manufacturing facility for Austin-based Smokey Denmark’s Smoked Meat Company.

The property is located at State Highway 29 and Bronco Boulevard behind Prosperity Bank. The rezoning request would change that land from general commercial/retail (C3) to light industrial/warehousing (I1).

“Should this request be approved, the applicant intends to have the use as manufacturing sausage,” Byrum said. “The I1 district is intended to provide for low intensity, limited impact industrial uses, which may include office warehousing, wholesaling, product assembly and light manufacturing conducted primarily within the confines of a building. This development would be in close proximity to the new Golf Cart King headquarters and manufacturing center.”

Golf Cart King will be moving its facility from Austin to Liberty Hill and will be located just north of the QuikTrip convenience store at SH 29 and County Road 214.

Byrum added that the applicant informed city staff that all raw ingredients for making sausage would be delivered to the facility in a box, meaning there would be no slaughtering of live animals. Two to four semi or box trucks a day would be delivering raw ingredients and picking up finished products, and business hours would be Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with no activity after 4 p.m. or on the weekends. In addition, Smokey Denmark plans on having a small retail business for walk-in customers.

The smoke generated from smoking sausage can be eliminated with the use of scrubbers, if necessary. There are currently 27 employees, with the hopes to have 30 to 40 employees when the new plant is built. They are currently located on East 5th Street in Austin and have outgrown their building, which is why they are looking to relocate to Liberty Hill.

Kathleen Bassi, who lives on Stallion Way, spoke about her concerns regarding odors and noise coming from the proposed building, adding that scrubbers scrub emissions, but not smells.

“A meat packing facility should not be next to a residential neighborhood,” she said. “We want this land to stay zoned for C3. I know there was an exception made for Golf Cart King, but if we change this zoning, it opens the door for all sorts of things that can come in under an I1 classification.”

Amanda May, who lives on Hobby Horse, said the current zoning of that land has remained the same for several years, which she believes makes sense and is compatible.

“Now a company from East Austin wants to come to our town for industrial purposes, and we all know about fatty, greasy pork and how that smells,” she said, adding that P&Z should decline the request for rezoning.

Michelle Hawley, who also lives on Hobby Horse, said her property would be directly behind the proposed building. She brought up the health risk and skin absorption rates over time from the smoke.

“Barbecue smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic and easily absorbed,” she said. “Smoke from charcoal and wood produces these hydrocarbons and soot particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs and can contribute to respiratory illnesses and even lung cancer.”

Hawley added that the wind blows heavily into her yard and she is concerned about the smell being a nightmare.

“Smoke scrubbers are great, but they won’t take care of the issue in full,” she said. “Also, how will the amount of garbage and waste product distributed be handled? The visual impact will change our property value, the dynamics of our neighborhood and certainly the traffic.”

James Loughlin, who lives on Hobby Horse, said he works at a similar type of company in Austin, and he has seen all sorts of varmints there, from cockroaches to rats.

“The sanitation of these buildings is not up to par and we can’t monitor that,” he said. “We don’t want to be living in houses that back up to that because there’s nothing we can do to stop it once it gets there.”

Aaron Hubbard, also a resident on Hobby Horse, echoed similar comments. He added that if Smokey Denmark is having a hard time finding a property that suits them, he would be happy to help them find a good deal between Bertram and Burnet through his real estate business.

Cassie Reveile, a resident on Stallion Way, said she is concerned for her children, who walk the neighborhood. She also has teens who drive in and out of the neighborhood frequently.

“I’ve had anxiety all week thinking about this,” she said. “We all walk and ride bikes in the neighborhood, walk to the mailboxes and even walk to Sonic. All of that would change for us. Adding two to four semi-trucks and 40 employees to that space is overwhelming. Traffic is already bumper to bumper there every day. I am all for new businesses coming to Liberty Hill, but not an industrial meat packing facility.”

Bridget Lee, a resident of Bronco Boulevard, said she’s been in Liberty Hill for 15 years and believes the City hasn’t done a good job of planning for growth.

“It’s been a game of hiring people they know and friends and family and there’s been no real planning,” she said. “There will be too much traffic if a manufacturing plant is put next to a gated community. There will be an accident—I just know it. There needs to be better planning, period, point blank.”

Several other residents made brief comments about the proposed project, saying they moved to Liberty Hill to get away from industrial style buildings and businesses. Approximately 40 other Sundance Estates residents did not speak, but signed a form indicating their opposition. Many of the residents erupted in cheers and applause as their neighbors spoke.

Because of the overwhelming push back from residents, city staff recommended the commission table the item and come back to it after hosting an open house for people to ask questions and gain more information.

“Smokey Denmark has been where they currently are since 1969, and they’ve received no code violations,” Byrum said. “There is a neighborhood where they are located; however, the recommendation from staff is to table [this item] and host a workshop or open house to further discuss this with residents.”

Because a representative from Smokey Denmark was in attendance, the P&Z asked him to speak, even as they unanimously agreed to table the item.

“We want to build in an area that welcomes us,” said Marlis Oliver, president of Smokey Denmark. “We will not force this on the community. What I would like to do is share some points just to make our case.”

Oliver said the way the ovens work in the sausage factory is very different from a smoker in a barbecue restaurant or even a backyard. Once those are lit, they immediately start producing smoke off the stack. The commercial ovens his company uses have a three-hour pit process where smoke is injected into the sausage during a sealed, recirculating process. After the three-hour cook process, a vent is opened and steam and smoke exit at that point, but he said there is not constant smoke coming from the building. He added that the factory’s limited hours and being closed on weekends also reduces smoke output.

“The smoke emitted is much less than any barbecue restaurant you’ve eaten at,” he said. “We’ve never received a complaint in the 52 years we’ve been on East 5th Street. We sit on a half-acre there, and we are crammed in with no growth opportunities. We thought Liberty Hill would be good opportunity for us.”

Oliver added that waste from the factory is a non-issue, because the meat is brought in boxed and already trimmed. Any waste stays in a refrigerated cooler at 38 degrees and approximately every 10 days is disposed of by a truck that picks it up.

“As far as fencing, if we were given the opportunity to build there, we would have attractive barrier fencing, and we would only have a one story building. It would be as attractive as we could make it. We desire to add to the community to make it better, not worse. We have a retail meat market up front, and we sell a variety of smoked sausage, beef jerky and summer sausage. We felt that would be a cool thing for Liberty Hill.”

Oliver also argued that while two to four truck deliveries a day sounds like a lot, it’s no more than any local restaurant that receives deliveries. He added that the company doesn’t plan to grow past 30 to 40 employees.

“We specifically chose that spot because it’s a large piece of land,” he said. “It’s way more than we need but gave us the ability to have some breathing room and you can see it from 29.”

P&Z Commissioner Steve Messana said he felt residents didn’t get enough information before the public hearing, which caused rumors to spread and assumptions to be made.

“We had 100 residents show up because they herd about this rezoning, but only 22 letters went out,” he said. “Obviously a lot more came out here tonight because they were very upset. [These people] had very little information and spoke on a lot of speculation and rumors. If those residents had more information up front, generally speaking things might have been different.”

P&Z Commissioner Diana Williams said while many challenges were pointed out by residents, as members of the P&Z, she and the board are challenged to balance needs of the city.

“If we don’t have the businesses we need for the tax base, that falls on us within the city limits,” she said. “That said, I wouldn’t want light industrial behind my home either. With that in mind, I encourage P&Z to work with city staff and figure out a place that better suits this factory.”

City Staff and the P&Z Commission are now working together to choose a date for an open house and workshop for residents to attend, ask questions and get more information.

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