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Webster girds for civic battle over proposed lettuce farm 

The Town of Webster appears poised for a civic battle over a proposed multi-building indoor lettuce farm on State Road.

CEA Fresh Farms, a startup farming operation, filed an application last month to be heard by the town Planning Board.

click to enlarge Lawn signs opposing a proposed indoor lettuce farm have sprouted around Webster. - PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • Lawn signs opposing a proposed indoor lettuce farm have sprouted around Webster.

The company wants to build seven 5-acre "controlled-environment" farm buildings to grow red and romaine lettuce on State Road between Salt and County Line roads. The operation would span some 147 acres, according to the company.

Keith Sernick, a company lawyer, said CEA was prepared to invest between $175 million and $200 million into the operation, and anticipated employing between 375 and 400 workers within five years.

"This is a real opportunity for job creation," Sernick said.

Opposition has surfaced in pockets of the town. Bright green lawn signs reading, "No Grow Factories," have popped up in yards. The matter has also been hotly debated in a Webster Facebook group.

"This project would be better suited in a commercial or industrial zoning area," resident Jennifer Breunig said. I support real farmers not corporations taking advantage of agricultural zoning."

Sernick said greenery would conceal the project from view on the road.

Webster Town Supervisor Ronald Nesbitt addressed the criticism in a recent blog post, noting that the land is zoned for agricultural purposes.

"Some have said I am at fault for this project coming to town and I should stop it," Nesbitt wrote, explaining that the only hand he had in the project was responding to a request by CEA for information on available land.

"I gave them all available lands in Webster including Xerox," he wrote. "As your town supervisor, I do this all the time when a business or a restaurant wants to come to Webster."

Webster has a history of shunning indoor farming operations.

Two years ago, vocal opposition to a proposed tomato farm that would have erected greenhouses on State Road near Salt Road forced that company to take its project - and its 100 jobs - to neighboring Ontario and Wayne counties.  

Informational meetings hosted by CEA are slated for Wednesday, Nov. 6., and Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., and on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 10 a.m. at Webster Thomas High School.

The Planning Board is slated to take up the matter on Nov. 19.

Todd Etshman is a contributing writer to CITY. He can be reached at etshman@juno.com.

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