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JANESVILLE

Agricultural manufacturers may now ask the city for permission to build migrant worker housing facilities.

The first business to make such a request, Seneca Foods, is well on its way to building barracks for the 250 to 300 seasonal workers it hires each year.

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The city council on Monday unanimously approved allowing migrant worker housing as a conditional use for agricultural production manufacturers. The move was inspired by Seneca’s desire to build migrant housing on its property on Conde Street on the city’s south side.

The city also annexed 10.71 acres of land Seneca already owned in the town of La Prairie. Planning Director Duane Cherek said the town did not oppose the annexation.

The plan commission in September approved a conditional-use permit for Seneca to build the barracks on condition the city council approve the ordinance change.

Seneca’s barracks would house about 150 workers from June to November. The state Department of Workforce Development, which regulates migrant labor across the state, still has to approve the project.

Seneca will charge its workers $35 per week to live in the barracks and will charge for food in its on-site cantina, company Vice President Eric Martin said.

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The city council praised Seneca for trying to provide housing for its seasonal workers, but Seneca’s neighbor, DeVere Company, has reservations about the project.

DeVere President Randal Stevenson spoke during a public hearing for the project, saying his company wants Seneca to build a fence or some other barrier between the properties to prevent migrant workers from walking across DeVere property.

Stevenson said DeVere has reached out to Cherek to discuss the concerns but could not reach him. He said he was hoping for open discussion between the company and city.

Cherek said he spoke to DeVere CEO Cynthia Shackelford about the company’s concerns, which the city’s plan commission found not to be specific enough to the project to inhibit it.

Martin, the Seneca executive, told the council its company would give verbal, written and further discipline to workers found violating the company’s code of conduct.

Cherek said there is nothing stopping DeVere from putting up its own fence around the property. The company would just have to follow the city’s fence regulations.

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