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Yorkville officials, grower close on deal for greenhouse lettuce farm

YORKVILLE – A deal is near to bring a job-producing greenhouse lettuce farm to Yorkville.

City officials and grower Bright Farms both say they are getting closer to a development agreement to bring the lettuce production facility to a 100-acre site at the northeast corner of Eldamain and Corneils roads on the far northwest side of the city, north of the Menards Distribution Center.

Yorkville City Administrator Bart Olson told aldermen at their March 22 meeting that the staff expects to be bringing them a final agreement for approval in April.

The key unknown as this point is whether the city will succeed in obtaining a $1 million federal grant to help pay for the extension of sanitary sewer service to the property.

The city has applied for a $1 million federal Community Development Block Grant to help cover the cost of the $2.8 million sewer extension.

However, Bright Farms Project Manager Sean O’Neill said after the meeting that the grower would be willing to renegotiate if the city does not get the grant money.

Bright Farms ultimately plans to build four eight-acre greenhouse “modules” and employ about 200 people to grow the salad greens.

“It will be intensively farmed,” O’Neill said. “We’ll make Yorkville the lettuce capital of the world.”

How quickly the company builds out its greenhouse plan will depend on how rapidly the market absorbs the tons of lettuce that the grower expects to produce, O’Neill said.

At a previous meeting, O’Neill said the grower will start with one of the gigantic greenhouses and then add a new one about every two years, depending on sales.

Bright Farms started in rural Pennsylvania with a business model of growing fresh local lettuce and herbs to be shipped directly to retailers within 24 hours for a longer shelf life and smaller carbon footprint.

For Yorkville officials, the sanitary sewer line extension is considered critical not only for the lettuce farm project, but to attract and serve other businesses along the Eldamain Road corridor, which they view as a future economic engine for the community.

The Yorkville Bristol Sanitary District, Bright Farms and the city are all expected to contribute to the cost of the sewer line extension.

The city expects to recapture some of its costs when new industrial users along Eldamain pay hookup fees for the sewer service.

Negotiations between the city and Bright Farms include the building permit fees for the project.

Olson told aldermen in a memo that the current estimate is more than $350,000 for the four greenhouses and several other support structures, totaling more than 1.8 million square feet.

Bright Farms is requesting waivers or reductions on the greenhouses because of the simplicity of construction and because the four structures will be identical. Olson said the city is evaluating the request for a fee reduction.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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