Seneca Foods is one step closer to offering housing for seasonal migrant workers at its property on Janesville’s south side.
The Janesville Plan Commission on Monday unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the food processing company’s proposed housing project and unanimously forwarded a favorable recommendation to the city council, which must give final approval.
Seneca also needs approval from the state Department of Workforce Development, which regulates migrant labor across the state, said Duane Cherek, city planning director.
The company hopes to build five residential buildings to house about 150 workers during its busiest season from June to November, Cherek said.
Seneca would be restricted to housing that is occupied 10 or fewer months per year, Cherek said.
A sixth building will be constructed to house a cafeteria and amenities such as recreation space and laundry facilities, he said.
The company has hired seasonal migrant workers, primarily from Texas and Mexico, for years and typically houses them at local motels, according to previous reporting from The Gazette.
However, using motels for housing is not financially sustainable and does not offer the amenities Seneca wants, company officials have said.
Seneca hires 250 to 300 seasonal employees every year and is increasingly dependent on migrant workers, Cherek said.
The commission recommended that the city council amend an ordinance to allow migrant housing as a conditional use on land zoned M2, general industrial district, and that the council rezone Seneca’s property to M2 upon annexation from the town of La Prairie.
The conditional-use permit comes with these conditions:
- Each residential structure must house no more than 30 overnight occupants.
- Any efforts to expand must be reviewed by the plan commission.
- The commission must review the conditional-use permit each of the first two years of operation.
- The facilities must be removed if housing is discontinued for three consecutive years.
The commission held three public hearings on the project, one for each measure the commission considered.
Resident René Bue supported the project, saying it would provide better conditions for migrant workers and a sense of community.
Seneca provides on-site housing for migrant workers at its plants in Gillett and Oakfield. Officials from both communities wrote letters to city staff supporting Seneca’s proposal and saying the communities experience no issues with their migrant workers.
Cynthia Shackelford and Randal Stevenson, CEO and president of DeVere Company, respectively, wrote a letter to the city voicing concerns about migrant housing.
DeVere, which is adjacent to Seneca at 1923 Beloit Ave., makes cleaning materials and skin care products for commercial, industrial and institutional use. In their letter, DeVere officials expressed concern about housing workers with no long-term ties to the community. They wrote the workers might not understand property lines and walk across adjacent properties because of limited access to transportation.
They also worried about safety for their employees and property, theft of office and lab equipment and chemicals that could be used to make illegal drugs, vandalism, fire from improper cigarette disposal, and contamination of Food and Drug Administration-registered products.
Plan commission member Carl Weber said he wished DeVere representatives had attended the meeting so the commission could address their concerns.
He said those concerns were not unique to migrant workers and could apply to the general population.
Regardless of where migrant workers sleep, chemicals that could be used to make illegal drugs should be secured, Weber said. He said he had his own concerns that DeVere might not have adequate security for its products.