Screenshot of the Busseto Foods plant in Fresno. Via Google Street View.
Written by Edward Smith
The Fresno City Council on Thursday will consider a rezone of 20 acres in Southwest Fresno as a meat processor seeks to consolidate its footprint and build a state-of-the-art facility it says will be unlike any other in the nation.
Busseto Foods applied to change the zoning on land across the street from its main facility at 1090 W. Church Ave. from residential to light industrial.
The dried meat company seeks to build a nearly half-million-square-foot warehouse on land it purchased about a decade before the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan was passed. Under the plan, land once designated industrial changed to residential and mixed-use out to limit the pollution burden for that part of town and accommodate a need for grocery and medical services.
The 475,000 square-foot production and distribution facility at Church and West avenues would allow Busseto to consolidate all three of its production operations under one roof. The company operates a main facility across the street from the proposed site, a distribution center near Highway 99 and a leased freezer near the main production center.
The new facility would be the “largest of its kind” in the industry, according to City documents. Multiple calls to Busseto Foods owner Mike Grazier were not returned.
Grazier and his team purchased the 20-acre plot of land in 2007 for $1.2 million, according to a deed filed with the Fresno County Recorder’s Office. Since then, it has remained vacant.
According to files submitted with the City of Fresno, the need to expand comes as America’s hunger for dried meats and charcuterie has grown. In 2007, sales neared $20 million annually. By 2017, the industry was selling $58 million worth of meat throughout the U.S., according to the proposal submitted to the City.
The new building would have 500,000 to 600,000 pounds of meat pass through the doors weekly, according to the proposal.
In April, a letter was penned to the City of Fresno from a law firm representing the Laborers’ International Union of North America — also known as LiUNA. The letter cited an environmental study done by ecologist Shawn Smallwood with UC Davis. Smallwood visited the Busseto site on March 29 and claimed the study performed by Precision Civil Engineering only found a small percentage of the wildlife Smallwood found.
Additionally, Smallwood wrote that proposed mitigation measures would be inadequate to preserve wildlife. Increased traffic levels would “accumulate 198,100 wildlife fatalities” over 50 years.
A call made to LiUNA asking about the status of the complaint was not returned.
Ultimately, the project would decrease truck traffic in the area, said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias. Busseto trucks go back and forth from the three different sites located in Southwest Fresno.
“There’s essentially a lot of circular traffic throughout the day going through West Fresno. This would provide one modern facility,” Arias said.
For this reason, he says most community members have been in support of the plan.
Unlike other food processing facilities, this would have little-to-no odor, Arias said. The company would build a solar field that would make the building net-zero in energy demand.
A lot of the workers at Busseto live in the area, with many working there 25 years or more, Arias said.
The operational report states the current main facility would remain opened with a reduced workforce of 25 people. When open, the proposed facility would employ 160 with seasonal fluctuations of 20-50 people, according to documents filed with the City.
“It is a prime example of how a modern facility can gain community support by their public engagement process and transparency,” Arias said.