Performance Foods — Northcenter wants to add 50,000 square feet of cold storage

AUGUSTA — City councilors expressed support for a zoning change proposed to allow Performance Foodservice — Northcenter to move its parking lot so it can add 50,000 square feet of cold storage to its food distribution operation in Augusta.

President Greg Piper told councilors Thursday the company needs to expand to accommodate its ongoing growth and probably would have to move out of the city if its plan to move its truck and employee parking lot to an adjacent property to free up space to expand its building is not approved.

Councilors expressed support for a zoning change needed to allow the parking lot and their pleasure at hearing the company plans to expand, though they clashed somewhat with each other about whether the project’s environmental impact is relevant to the council discussion of the proposal.

Company officials said building the proposed new parking lot with spaces for 90 trucks and other vehicles to park just north of the food distribution firm’s Dalton Road building would allow the business to build a 50,000-square-foot freezer where many of its parking spaces are now. The operation is between the Kennebec River and Riverside Drive. Piper said the company is renting storage space elsewhere now because it doesn’t have room for all its business at its Dalton Road facility.

Piper, asked by Mayor David Rollins what the effect would be on the business if the proposed zone change is rejected, said the company would have to move somewhere that could accommodate its need for a bigger facility.

“We’d have to move our business and our company would have to do what they call a survey, based on where our traffic is and our customer base is,” Piper said. “And over 50 percent of our business is done more than 60 miles south. So my first guess is our business would move somewhere south of Augusta.”

Even before the possibility of moving was mentioned, councilors expressed support for the proposal and the company, which Piper said employs 355 workers with an average salary of more than $62,000 a year.

“We need more Northcenters here in the city of Augusta. I think we’d all like to see that,” Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said. “I’m in favor of this.”

In application materials filed with the city, the company says the Augusta subsidiary of Performance Foodservice is growing but doesn’t have enough space now at its 140,000-square-foot building to accommodate additional growth.

The company said it doesn’t have enough space to expand on its current site, but it would if it could move its parking lot to adjacent property,

The proposed parking lot property is between a Sherwood Drive residential neighborhood and the Kennebec River. The property is currently accessible from Sherwood Drive; but if the plan is approved, it would be reachable from a driveway that would be built from Northcenter’s existing parking lot to the new lot. Part of the site is now a gravel pit.

The company’s application says the parking lot would be about 60 feet below Sherwood Drive, is buffered by forest and would be more than 300 feet from the closest residence.

Northcenter would buy one part of the parcel from an Augusta couple and lease the rest from Central Maine Power Co.

Piper said the parking lot would be further away from residences on Sherwood Drive than those residences are from U.S. Route 201.

However, a parking lot is not an allowed use in the zone where the land is. It was until about a year ago, when the city rezoned that area as part of a larger change, which changed the zone there from Planned Development to the more restrictive Planned Development 2 zone, which does not allow parking lots.

In a proposal recommended by the Augusta Planning Board earlier this month, the company asked the city to agree to a contract zone, leaving the site within the larger Planned Development 2 area, but with an agreement it could be used for parking services.

At-Large Councilor Dale McCormick asked about the project’s environmental impact and urged Piper to consider using pervious pavement for the parking lot to help prevent runoff into the Kennebec River.

“I’m sure a responsible employer that pays such good wages is environmentally responsible too,” she said.

Piper responded that the company is environmentally responsible, noting that for the last four years it has bought 100 percent of its electricity with renewable energy credits. He said the new parking lot will be 50 to 100 feet farther from the current one, and the current one already complies with environmental standards.

Mayor David Rollins said the council’s role is only to consider whether the zoning change should be approved. He said state and federal agencies would be responsible for reviewing the environmental impact, and the city’s Planning Board would be responsible for determining whether it would be compatible with the neighborhood.

“We’re not contemplating the environmental concerns. We’re not the overseers of that,” Rollins said.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti later countered that the project’s environmental impact was just as relevant as Rollins’ question about the effect on the company if the zone change were not approved.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said if the zone change is approved, both the parking lot project and future expansion of Northcenter’s building would undergo separate reviews by the Planning Board.

No members of the public spoke out on the proposal.

Cives Steel abuts the Northcenter property to the south. Both businesses are reached via Lipman Road.

Of the company’s 355 employees, 193 work at the Augusta site, with around 50 of them working at night, according to company officials.

The company began in 1963 as a division of Joseph Kirschner and by 1970 had five employees. It moved to its Dalton Road site in 1975 with a 12,000-square-foot building. It expanded there in 1984, 1988, 1995 and 2000, when it reached its present 140,000-square-foot building size.

In 1999 Northcenter Foodservice merged with Performance Food Group, of Richmond, Virginia. In 2008 that company merged with Roma foods, becoming Performance Foodservice.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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