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