Processing plant for local farmers in the works on Sound Avenue

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The former Blackman Plumbing warehouse on Sound Avenue should be ready to open this summer as a processing plant.

A Holtsville-based food wholesale company is planning to take up shop in a Sound Avenue warehouse, where it will run an agricultural processing center for local farm goods, according to officials and permit applications filed with the town.

The company, J. Kings Food Service Professionals Inc., has purchased the former Blackman Plumbing Supply warehouse at 2711 Sound Avenue and recently received approval from the town for a permit to use the site for agricultural processing, according to the permit application acquired by the Riverhead News-Review in a Freedom of Information Act request filed last week.

The permit was filed on May 15 and approved on the same day, and will allow J. Kings to use the warehouse to store produce from local farms and process the products to sell them to New York retailers. Building department staffers said the permit was approved quickly because J. King’s proposed use didn’t made any exterior changes to the building. Staffers said approval times “vary” based on the complexity of the proposal.

“I think it’s a great project,” Supervisor Sean Walter said in an interview Monday, adding that the facility should bring some 20 to 30 jobs to town. “This is a natural progression of agriculture on Long Island.”

Mr. Walter said company owner John King approached his office about two to three weeks ago about the planned storage facility. But Mr. Walter said he had deputy supervisor Jill Lewis handle the subsequent talks because he wanted to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.

Mr. Walter was previously an attorney for Blackman Plumbing Supply, and represented the company in dealings with its Southampton and Islip town locations.

He added that the proposed J. King warehouse falls under current permitted uses in the Agricultural Production Zone, which states that agricultural production, “including, but not limited to” growing crops is allowed.

“A lot more goes into agricultural production than just growing crops,” Mr. Walter said. “We need to be able to produce the products to [take to] market.”

Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joseph Gergela said “there’s a lot of potential in the facility.”

Mr. Gergela said John King discussed moving a “vegetable processing team” from Bay Shore to the Riverhead facility, as well as a possible hydrocooler, which would allow farmers’ produce to last longer on store shelves.

J. Kings is one of the major buyers of local products, Mr. Gergela said.

“We’re pretty much ready to go,” Mr. Gergela said. “There’s a lot of support in the farm community, the wine industry and even the commercial fishing industry.”

Food processing involves storage and packaging so the products can be ready for market.

The Farm Bureau is working to iron out a two- to three-year lease for local farmers to utilize the J. Kings facility — J. Kings employees will be running the facility — using a $500,000 state economic development grant for agricultural production.

Originally, the grant was expected to be used toward a facility at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Mr. Gergela said, but it was determined that the existing Sound Avenue warehouse would be ready faster.

“This is a great opportunity for us, and it was too good to let it go by,” he said, adding that the facility would be open this summer.

Mr. Gergela downplayed the potential negative effects which have been brought up by area residents of increased weekend traffic due to farmers delivering their goods.

“John King’s a businessman,” Mr. Gergela said. “He’s not going to set up a business to annoy the neighbors or be a bad neighbor.”

Mr. King could not be reached for comment.

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Read more in Thursday’s Riverhead News-Review.