Goat farm gets go-ahead for creamery

Afterglow given permit from town commission despite residents’ concerns about potential impact

GOATS AT THE Afterglow Dairy Farm on Lake Drive in the Town of Port Washington were led to the milking parlor July 10 as a group of town officials and residents toured the facility in advance of a public hearing on a proposed creamery. Project manager Juli Kaufmann (second from left in right photo) and cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza (black shirt) discussed the creamery with former farm owner Roger Karrels. Photos by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Town of Port Washington Plan Commission last week unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for a creamery to be built at Afterglow Dairy Farm on Lake Drive.

The action came after roughly two hours of debate and discussion before a standing-room-only crowd, most of whom argued that the creamery is incompatible with their neighboring subdivision and would negatively affect their property values.

“This by far is my major asset,” Hugh Barth, 735 Lake Dr., said of his home during a public hearing before the vote. “I’m so concerned about my property values. I will fight this thing as long as I’m able to.”

Heidi Janous, 4446 Weilers Way, asked the board, “Picture your house. How would you like to have an industrial-looking cheese factory built across the street?”

Mary Baumann, 861 Weilers Way, told the commission it should consider the impact on property values, noting the subdivision pays roughly $159,000 annually in taxes.

“I challenge you to find another subdivision in the town that’s paying that much, and we’re going to be next to a factory,” she said.

One resident spoke in favor of the creamery. 

“I hear a lot of fear in the room right now,” Jenny Schlenvogt, 1122 Lake Dr.,  said. “Give them a chance. They’re a small, local farmer. This is not Cedar Valley Cheese. This is not a factory. 

“I don’t think the impact the farm is going to have is going to impact me or my neighborhood.”

Afterglow owner Lynde Uihlein lives next to the farm, Schlenvogt said, adding, “Do you think she wants to bring in a smelly monstrosity there?”

Town Chairman Jim Melichar took issue with the residents characterizing the creamery as a factory.

“I really have a hard time calling it a factory when they’re going to process their own product for their own label,” he said, adding farms have always been allowed to process their own milk.

Residents noted that the building will look more industrial than agricultural. Cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza said that while they considered a building that looked like a traditional barn, it was cost prohibitive.

Traditional barns are being replaced by pole barns and other more industrial looking buildings, Supr. Mike Didier added. 

The July 10 meeting was preceded by a tour of the goat farm at 820 Lake Dr., when commission members and members of the public got a look at where the creamery would go.

The Blakesville Creamery — the name of the farm will be changed to Blakesville Dairy Farm to match the cheese-making facility — would eliminate the need for the farm to truck its milk off site for processing, project manager Juli Kaufmann said. 

“It has always been part of the plan to create a farmstead creamery,” Kaufmann said.

The 9,200-square-foot creamery will replace an old barn that is fire-damaged and obsolete, she said, adding it will be built on the footprint of the barn and an adjoining concrete yard.

Because there would be no change in the amount of impermeable ground, Kaufmann said, there should not be any impact on drainage. 

The creamery would be directly south of the milking parlor, so milk would be piped across a driveway for processing, she said.

The creamery would use milk from the farm’s goats, and eventually would perhaps truck in a small amount of cow or sheep’s milk to blend in its cheese, she said. 

The farm is at its maximum capacity, producing about 1.5 million pounds of milk annually, she said, and the creamery is sized to match it.

“We don’t anticipate the activities going on in this building to be any more noticeable to you than what we have now,” Pedraza said.

She said the creamery would be making “small, four to six-ounce individual pieces” of cheese, adding, “We don’t want this to be industrial product, a commodity product.”

The creamery will operate from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7 a.m. to noon on weekends. The number of employees will peak at eight to 12 after three years.

Traffic should be about the same, Kaufmann said, and the noise levels should be similar to those experienced today.

Whey created in the cheesemaking process will be stored in a tank and hauled from the site. A vacuum system should prevent smells from escaping, she added.

But the neighbors were not convinced.

“We don’t have the facts, the substantial evidence required,” Rick Longstaff, 4476 Weilers Way, said, adding that while the neighbors don’t have an issue with the goat farm, they have many concerns about the creamery.

“We’re not necessarily objecting to the creamery itself,” he said, but the location next to the Bluff View Estate subdivision.

Longstaff suggested the creamery be moved to the far north end of the farm, off Highway P and away from his neighborhood, to eliminate any impact on the subdivision.

“All of us moved here knowing a farm was there. A factory is a different thing,” he said. 

“Is there a reason they are not willing to put that factory off Highway P?” one woman asked.

Pedraza noted that if they did, they would have to truck milk from one end of the farm to the other instead of piping it 18 feet from the parlor to the creamery. 

“This is the way we can make the farm viable,” she said. “I can’t run a pipeline a couple miles down the road.”

The alternate location would give the creamery room to expand in the future, Dave Janous, 4446 Weilers Way, said.

“We don’t want to do that,” Pedraza replied.

Longstaff asked the commission to delay a decision on the matter “so we can get more information and be sure the ordinances are being met.”

Residents, Longstaff said, don’t believe the plans submitted by the farm meet the requirements of law.

Town Attorney Steve Cain noted that the commission’s decision needs to be based on fact, not speculation, and noted that the Legislature has taken away much of the town’s power in these sorts of matters.

Didier, a real estate agent, said the argument that the creamery will impact property values is subjective. Either side could conduct a study that would find the creamery would impact them positively or negatively.

Commission member Dale Noll said that he does not believe the creamery will have a significant impact on the area, especially since the goat farm is already there.

“It shouldn’t affect their property values,” he said. “There should be no problem.” 

Didier also noted that he received a call from a constituent who noted that Uihlein is an environmentalist and, “in their opinion, this is the last person you need to worry about.”

Farm manager Brent Foat agreed, saying, “Anything that can possibly be done to improve the environment, she’ s going to make sure is done.”

Town Planner Christy DeMaster told the group there is little the town regulates in agricultural zoning areas. There are no architectural standards, she said, nor noise regulations. There are no specific stormwater management, lighting or landscaping requirements.

Kaufmann said the creamery is willing to install a landscape border on the property to screen the operation from the neighbors.

Melichar also noted that the farm and creamery are regulated by numerous state and federal agencies.

The commission approved the conditional-use permit with four conditions — that the creamery be used for goat’s milk products only and no retail sales be permitted, that the property owner comply with town, state, county and federal regulations, that a landscaped buffer be installed and the permit not be changed without an application.

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