Gehl Foods expansion could hit speed bump
Village planners opine proposed factory addition looks like
'a big blob'

By McLean Bennett

July 11, 2019


  A potential Gehl Foods factory expansion in Germantown could mean tearing down a row of four local homes along Main Street.
McLean Bennett/Daily News Staff

GERMANTOWN — A cheese and food maker in Germantown has signaled plans to expand its factory.

But Gehl Foods’ proposed buildout could face an uphill climb in an area where Germantown planners have said they want to focus on preserving downtown charm and augmenting existing entertainment venues — goals those officials said could rub against the sizable proposed factory expansion.

The roughly 22,500-square-foot addition, as outlined in advisory talks between the company and the Plan Commission, would build toward the corner of Main and Church streets. The effort would mean tearing down four homes along Main Street and replacing them with what several commissioners characterized as an unsightly new warehouse facade.

“I’m starting to think about the whole picture here for Main Street,” Commissioner Matthew Kimmler said. “I just don’t see this as being viable with what we’re trying to do with Main Street.”

Commissioner Anthony Laszewski was more direct, calling the proposed new factory facade “a big blob.” He and others pointed out the architectural renderings — a company official noted they were only preliminary — featured a mostly plain wall offset by a few faux windows.

 In filings with the Plan Commission this week, the company said it needed the expansion “to keep up to date on current marketing requirements,” and that the project would allow it to add a net of four new production lines and about 30 new jobs.

But village officials said they worried the proposal, if not handled correctly, could threaten the ethos along a stretch of Main Street that’s home to a few local pubs and other businesses, as well as a small number of houses.

“The fabric of Main Street is being eroded,” Plan Commission and Village Board member David Baum said Tuesday. Like others on the commission, he critiqued the preliminary building renderings as “a concrete wall with no interest in it.”

“Right now,” Baum said, “I don’t see it as fabulous at all.”

Daniel Wing, another Village Board member who spoke at Tuesday’s commission meeting, noted he’d watched Germantown’s downtown area slowly disappear over time.

“What I have seen destroy downtown is what I would call ‘incrementalism,’” Wing said, pointing out a series of small expansions at the food production facility that now occupies most of a village block.

Echoing others’ concerns the proposal could threaten the area’s atmosphere, Wing pointed to a nearby restaurant that features outdoor seating. “We’re going to bring a production line 10 feet away from them?”

“I still believe that downtown can be something,” Wing continued, urging fellow village leaders to press Gehl Foods to move its expansion to behind the four homes versus demolishing them. “But I need the board to back me. I need the Plan Commission to back me.”

Some of the homes in line for demolition are old and bear historical charm, though commissioners noted there was nothing they could do to prevent the company from tearing them down.

But officials noted the company needs village leaders to sign off on other steps in the expansion process, including coupling a few of the houses’ lots with the factory parcel and rezoning part of the area to make way for the addition.

A project manager who spoke to commissioners on Tuesday said developers behind the expansion idea would work with village leaders on the concept.

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