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Large refrigeration manufacturing facility proposed near Guelph

Resident says he was shocked to learn a "monster building probably twice the size of your average Costco" is being proposed on neighbouring farmland

A Georgetown-based fridge and freezer manufacturer has its sights set on Guelph/Eramosa Township as the location of a new industrial facility that could employ upwards of 250 people, but the plan is already getting some early push back from area residents. 

Jones Baseline Corporation (Minus Forty) has submitted a planning application to rezone 27.8 acres at 5063 Jones Baseline from agricultural to rural industrial land. The parcel is located just off Highway 7 halfway between Guelph and Rockwood. A small portion of the property along its northeast boundary is protected from development because of its designation as an Environmental Protection Zone.

The requested zoning change will allow for the construction of a 163,979 square foot industrial facility with 90,000 square feet for future expansions. The first phase of development will encompass administration, manufacturing and warehousing areas with eleven loading bays and 242 parking spaces. 

Minus Forty specializes in energy-efficient glass door freezers and fridges. Currently occupying an 80,000 square foot space in Georgetown, it plans to move its operation to the new larger plant in Guelph/Eramosa. 

Founder and CEO Julian Attree said the company currently employees around 150 people, but will likely grow to 250 by the time it's ready to open the Guelph/Eramosa facility in around two years. Within five years it could top 400 employees, he continued.

"Our history is that we're consistently exceeding our targets and expectations," Attree said.

The Guelph/Eramosa site was chosen as the proposed location of the new facility because the township presents "a great place to call home" for current employees who want to relocate, Attree said. The new plant will also be well positioned to recruit new workers from surrounding communities. Good access to the 401 is another asset, he added. 

Although the land Minus Forty wants to build on is currently zoned as agricultural, it has been designated as a "rural employment area" in the County of Wellington Official Plan, meaning it has been "set aside for industrial and limited commercial uses which would benefit from a rural location," according to county policy.

That came as a shock to some neighbours. Dan Mallette, who lives next door to the manufacturing plant's proposed location said he didn't know about the county's plans for the neighbouring property when he bought his home four years ago. 

"All of a sudden, through the grapevine we hear 'hey there's gonna be a monster building, probably twice the size of your average Costco going in on that farmland that's going to consume all 27 acres of it," he said. "How can that be possible?"

Mallette and other residents have formed a group called the Jones Baseline Community Group to oppose the project. He said they currently have around 30 members and plan on starting a petition calling on the township to deny the application for re-zoning.

Mallette said he doubts the facility will bring many jobs to the community as many existing workers will just transfer from Georgetown. 

"What we get out of it is a building that's going to operate 240 parking spots, right in the middle of our backyard, an over 15,000 square (metre) facility with expansion plans and running shifts that go from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., all in our nice quiet neighbourhood," he said.

The group is also concerned about the environmental impact and potential threats to drinking water the area. 

An environmental impact study submitted as part of the planning application found "significant natural features with the site," include habitat for an endangered bat, the Eastern Small-footed Myotis and a floodplain.

The report concluded "impacts can be avoided through protection and buffering of the existing natural features, aside from a small area of the floodplain to be impacted to install an outlet pipe and construct an emergency overflow weir and drainage ditch to facilitate the out letting of a stormwater management facility."

Attree said he understands residents concerns about urban expansion, but the company has "taken steps to ensure that our development is not encroaching on any environmentally sensitive areas."

He also said there are "very limited" parcels that are designated as employment lands.

"We have to go where we can find land with the appropriate designation," he said.

In an email, the township said the planning application has been circulated to various agencies including the Grand River Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Transportation for comment. Input is by due Aug. 12. Following that, a date for a public meeting on the matter will be set.