Renzi expansion clears first hurtle

Renzi Foodservice, 901 Rail Drive, Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — A wetlands issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is causing about $400,000 in additional costs for Renzi Foodservice’s expansion project in the City Center Industrial Park.

The subject came up during a Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency meeting on Thursday morning when company president John Renzi expressed his frustration that the wetlands issue has caused the project to already be delayed several months.

Mr. Renzi is asking the JCIDA and the Watertown Local Development Corp., also known as the Watertown Trust, for financial assistance to offset the $400,000 cost for the project off South Bellew Street.

“It’s really a cluster,” Mr. Renzi said, adding that it’s already caused “a significant impact” to the company’s plans for the expansion.

Officials say a tiny stream created by the relocation of a rail spur near the Renzi facility is the culprit.

Earlier this year, the Watertown Trust and the JCIDA relocated the industrial park’s rail spur to help Renzi move forward with its expansion. Renzi needed the rail spur moved because its property was landlocked and the company was unable to proceed.

But the company needs a wetlands permit before construction can start. The permit is required because the Army Corps is going back to an Obama-era federal wetland construction permit requirement.

“We’ve done as much as we can,” Mr. Renzi said.

The company had hoped to start construction this summer with a parking lot associated with its 38,176-square-foot expansion project to create additional office and warehouse space.

The project also is being impacted by the country’s supply chain shortage with a change in the construction plans, caused by the wetlands fiasco. It now requires 30-inch piping rather than two 12-inch pipes that were in the original plans to comply with the wetlands requirement.

The company cannot get the new piping delivered until December, Mr. Renzi said.

On Thursday, JCIDA board members expressed frustration that the Army Corps would cause such a problem for the company.

Board member W. Edward Walldroff pointed out the important role that Renzi Foodservice plays in providing food to the north country, especially its efforts during the pandemic.

“We really need to make Renzi whole again,” he said.

David J. Zembiec, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development, the JCIDA’s sister organization, agreed that the economic development community will see what it can do to help.

He and Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp., plan to sit down and talk with attorney Justin Miller, who represents the JCIDA, to identify options and determine which one would work.

“This business is vital to Watertown,” Mr. Rutherford said. “In my opinion, we should help with this.”

The company employs more than 250 workers and plans to add 10 more each year while it completes a multiyear expansion, he said.

According to state environmental laws, developers must mitigate the disturbance of wetlands.

The planned parking lot includes 24 additional parking spaces for tractor-trailers, a 51-space parking lot for cars and an additional access drive onto South Bellew Avenue. Its fleet of trucks now park in two sections of the property.

In August, the city Planning Board approved site plans for the project and the City Council gave the final go-ahead later that month.

The company’s facility now consists of nearly 70,000 square feet of cold storage and 42,153 square feet of warehouse space. The new warehouse addition will be built on the northeast side of the current facility.

Renzi is also eyeing further expansion projects at the facility in the future.

On Thursday, the JCIDA also approved a 15-year tax abatement package for the project. The company will pay 50% of its taxes over the next 15 years, with 100% savings during the first five years, 50% during the next five and full taxes in the last five.

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