Cambria brownfield site eyed for strawberry greenhouse | News

Something sweeter is planned for the future of a former Cambria junkyard.

NF Lockport LLC, a subsidiary of Northern Farms in partnership with Netafim and Orbia, plans to build a greenhouse and warehouse at 5222 Junction Road, Cambria, remediating the brownfield site in the process.

Northern Farms spokesperson Evan Coleman and attorney Chris Canada of Hodgson Russ, speaking via phone at this week’s Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board meeting, stated that the crops grown there will be mainly for the New England market. Northern Farms said it has no intention of growing cannabis in the greenhouse due to company policy of not investing in it.

The 30-acre site, across the railroad tracks from Cambria Asphalt, would house a 25-acre greenhouse and a 100,000-square foot warehouse. Strawberries will be the main crop; other fruits and vegetables could be grown there as well.

Coleman explained that strawberries in New England supermarkets prior to COVID-19 were brought in from California, Florida and Mexico. There were already logistical challenges in moving the crop that distance due to its brief shelf life.

“We looked at starting to do this about five years ago,” Coleman said, adding that he knew a group of people from Fidelity Investments who built backyard farms that became 42 acres of greenhouses in Maine. “It was a successful project employing over 250 people and contributes quite a bit to the local tax base.”

That led Northern Farms to get involved with Netafim, an Israel irrigation equipment manufacturer looking to be a larger player in greenhouse spaces.

The soil at the former scrapyard is contaminated with heavy metals, lead and oil. It has been vacant for more than 20 years and the former owners owe Niagara County more than $600,000 in taxes. The country transferred the tax lien to the Niagara Orleans Regional Land Improvement Corp., which then entered into an agreement with NF Lockport so the developer can pursue foreclosure action.

Northern Farms also submitted an application for assistance to the Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp., and it’s in the process of applying to New York Power Authority for low-cost power. It intends to install a rooftop solar array to offset energy costs.

Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp. provides loans and grants for bringing brownfield sites back to productive use. Michael Casale, who serves as the corporation’s secretary, confirmed NF Lockport is seeking a loan.

NCIDA Assistant Director Andrea Klyczek said the site is attractive for development since there are tax incentives at the state and federal level associated with cleanup efforts.

NF Lockport is requesting a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement that would convey $6.57 million in tax relief over a 15-year period; the relief consists of $1.59 million in property tax exemption, $4.56 million in sales tax exemption over a two-year period, and $412,500 in mortgage recording tax exemption.

NF Lockport projects creation of 63 jobs at the site with estimated average annual pay of $51,000 per job. The salaries range from $41,600 to $150,000.

Project costs are estimated to be $95 million, of which $65.1 million is construction, $25 million for equipment, $3 million for remediation, $1.85 million in other soft costs, and $50,000 for land acquisition.

Coleman said the greenhouse and warehouse would take 12 to 14 months to complete.

Cambria Town Supervisor Wright Ellis said since that area is zoned for industrial use, the town would allow such a project pending site plan review by its planning board.

A public hearing on the proposed PILOT agreement for NF Lockport will take place at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 at Cambria Town Hall.

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