Moving forward with continued efforts for transparency, officials from Costco Wholesale, Lincoln Premium Poultry, the Greater Fremont Development Council and the City of Fremont slated a series of open public meetings to address applications for annexation and zoning of land situated south of Fremont, known as Hills Farm. In the near future, the site may serve as the location for the proposed poultry processing operation that Costco hopes to bring to the Fremont area.
Cecilia Harry, executive director of the GFDC, informed that Costco desires to help the community prepare for, and engage in, the process as it moves forward, pointing out that plans for the public hearing process always existed as part of that engagement. She explained, for a development project like the one Costco proposes, some levels of public approval must always occur.
“The plan is that they will give an overview of the project and speak to the items on the agenda,” said Harry. “(Costco) has heard loud and clear that there is a group of the community that wants to have a public discussion.”
The meetings have been scheduled for Monday, June 20 at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 21st at 6:45 p.m., Monday, June 27 at 4:30 p.m. and Tuesday June 28 at 6:45 p.m. Official business in regards to annexation and zoning changes, such as the official readings of the ordinances and public discussion will take place at those meetings. Representatives from Costco, Lincoln Premium Poultry, the Greater Fremont Development Council and the Fremont City Council and Planning Commission will be present to conduct official business and hear public comment.
“This is the opportunity to let elected officials know that you support the project … ask any questions and express any concerns,” Harry said. “We’re excited that Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry are still interested in coming to the area. And we’ve been looking forward to this part of the process.”
In anticipation of a large community turnout – due to the strong public interest over issues related to the Costco operation’s economic impact, environmental impact, job creation and the pros and cons of such a facility – Mayor Scott Getzschman plans to hold all meetings at Christensen Field.
Getzschman explained that typically, the council chambers holds about 120 people, the maximum capacity as stipulated by the city fire marshal.
Based on prior attendance at city meetings that addressed matters of the Costco proposal, Getzschman felt it necessary, and in the public interest, to move the meetings to a larger venue, ensuring the opportunity exists for all interested parties and community members to attend and participate in the discussion.
“It’s the public process that we’re in,” Getzschman said. “It’s an opportunity for both sides to continue to hear, listen and learn.”
“It was a proactive move on the mayor’s part, to make sure people were comfortable and had a chance to be in the room,” Harry said.
Director of Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Development for Costco Johnathan Luz, who also serves as the project lead for the proposed facility, expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming meetings. Luz and other Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry officials will be present at the meetings.
Luz stressed that Costco officials want to support the Fremont city council and address any questions or clarifications.
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Luz also articulated some of the attraction the Fremont area holds for Costco. He praised the community support and the work ethic of the Fremont area people who, he said, understand the “importance of agriculture and doing things the right way.”
“We’re there to support the process,” Luz stated. “We’ve felt overwhelming support from the community, community leaders – including the farming community.”
A series of internal and external consent processes still need to occur prior the official sanction of the proposal, Luz informed. He explained that Costco maintains an experienced real estate team that continues to work through various construction and real estate estimates for the proposed site. Understanding the location environment, topography and feasibility, as well as the continued vetting of the initial project cost projections and several other decisions, will all continue to occur as the plan moves forward.
“Our company hasn’t formally approved the facility,” Luz added. “They’ve approved the due diligence, but those results need to be matched against Costco’s estimates … once costs are vetted and hurdles cleared, we’ll make a decision.”
Harry also noted that the process of bringing Costco to the area continues to remain competitive; but she remains optimistic.
“Costco has made it very clear for a long time that this is where they prefer to go … and want to go,” Harry said. “(The upcoming meetings) are a very healthy sign that (Fremont) is where they want to be.”
The Hills Farm land in question sits in an agricultural setting south of Fremont on four large parcels bounded to the east by South Main Street, to the west and north by Old Highway 275 and to the south by Hills Farm road. The four parcels consist of 414 acres that Costco has petitioned to the City of Fremont for annexation and rezoning.
Still, not everyone supports the facility coming to Fremont, citing risks of environmental impact and opposition to vertical integration and contract farming. The grassroots entity known as Nebraska Communities United, with support from Jane Kleeb of Nebraska Bold, continue to tout their opposition to Costco.
“We’ve been asking for transparency since March,” said Randy Ruppert, spokesman for Nebraska Communities United. “And we feel the only reason they are demonstrating transparency now is because of the growing opposition to the project, and Costco’s secrecy.”
Ruppert expressed his certainty that Costco and the City of Fremont wanted the project to be a “done deal” before they brought it into public discussion.
However, Mayor Getzschman contended that idea.
“I’m not going to assume what might be until it happens,” Getzschman said. “Basically, we’re going to move forward, business as usual and try to add economic development to our community.”