Mountaire cooling system gets OK from Selbyville BOA

Food safety topped the list of reasons for the Selbyville Board of Adjustment to recommend on May 8 approval for Mountaire to install a massive new cooling unit.

Valued at around $6 million, the cooling unit could decrease the temperature inside the poultry processing building — one of many buildings at the Hosier Street facility — from 85 degrees to 50 degrees. Some Mountaire work areas are already chilled, but more is needed in order to meet the needs of the company’s customers.

“We have had customers visit our facility. They are [increasingly] requiring” their suppliers to cut and process meat in a refrigerated facility,” said Mike Tirrell, Mountaire vice president of human resources and business services.

Cool air will also be a dehumidifier, as raw meat liquid can evaporate, condense on the metal and then drip back down, even onto product.

“Food safety is just a huge issue in today’s world,” Tirrell said, noting it would also create a “definitely more comfortable environment for employees.”

Condensation from the cooling unit will flow to the regular waste treatment center.

Mayor Clifton Murray asked about noise.

Mountaire attorney Mark Dunkle showed paperwork from a sound engineer estimating that the sound should “add zero” noise before it’s halfway to the fence.

“I think it’s a necessity for health reasons,” said Councilman Clarence “Bud” Tingle Jr., calling it a “cut-and-dry” project. “I think, eventually, these guys will be forced to do it anyway.”

“I don’t see where it adds traffic or problems to the town,” Murray added.

“I think safety and reduction of the possibility of contamination … overrides everyone’s thinking,” said Selbyville Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox, noting that the project meets other building requirements.

Much of the equipment will be located on the ground, for ease of maintenance and to ease the roof load. Despite the Town’s 35-foot building height maximum, the air conditioning’s condensation unit would be 20.5 feet on top of a 21-foot building. But Town Code didn’t provide clear guidance on whether the unit is considered a part of the structure or an accessory item, despite being permanently attached.

Dunkle said Mountaire had interpreted that the unit and other affixtures, such as antennas, are “equipment,” not structure.

Ultimately, the BOA decided that the height is still shorter than surrounding factory buildings, and it would not change character of the neighborhood. They wrote a 42-foot height limit into the agreement, for the benefit of future building inspectors.

The Selbyville Town Council may vote on the matter at their June 2 meeting.

The BOA, rather than Planning & Zoning Commission, handled the request because the factory was built before Selbyville had commercial zoning laws. Without guidelines for factories, and with Mountaire technically “grandfathered” in as non-conforming, the Selbyville BOA has to consider any adjustments to the premises.

Future Mountaire projects may include building an employee wellness center and demolishing an old building for an employee parking lot, representatives said.