A south Allentown company that makes plastic sheeting has won approval from the city's zoning hearing board to erect a dozen 68-foot-tall silos on the property.
Filmtech Corp. is located on 12 acres at 2121 31st St. S.W., between the railroad tracks and the Giant shopping center along nearby Emmaus Avenue.
On the other side of those tracks, closer to Lehigh Street, are a car wash and a small restaurant.
Although a residential neighborhood is nearby on the south side of 31st Street, no one opposed the company's plans to erect the silos when the case was presented to the zoning board Monday night.
Ten 40-foot-tall silos already stand on a pad at the secluded north end of the plant, which manufactures black plastic sheeting used between rows of farm crops and blue plastic sheeting used on hospital beds.
The 12 new silos will be erected next to those original 10. Plastic pellets, raw material for the plant's manufacturing process, arrive via railroad cars and are stored in the silos until needed.
The actual silos will be 60 feet tall, but topped with eight-foot-tall fill pipes that are used to remove pellets from rail cars and blow them into the silos.
A variance was needed because the city's zoning ordinance imposes a 35-foot height limit on such structures.
Mark Jordan, Filmtech's president, warned: "If we can't have the silos to expand the business, we have to look for someplace else to put the business. We could move to any of several places."
But Jordan also told the zoning board that, if it would approve the additional silos, the company plans to expand the plant by adding a 100,000-square-foot warehouse on the site. Another company spokesman said that warehouse will be a $6 million expansion.
Atty. Eric Schock, who represented Filmtech, told zoners: "We have an existing plant at this location that wants to continue to be there."
He said adding the new silos is important to expanding that plant and bringing more jobs and investment to the city. "It can't work without the 60-foot silos."
Schock noted no one showed up to complain that the taller silos will create "some awful disruption" to their views. He said that area is zoned limited industrial and the plant is not in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Jordan testified that the city, the state's Bureau of Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration all determined the proposed silos will present no hazard to planes using nearby Queen City Airport.
Jordan explained each new silo will hold the contents of one train car, which will give the company better quality control over the material.
He said one rail car can carry 180,000 to 200,000 pounds of plastic pellets, adding it would take four tractor-trailers to carry that much. Each of the new silos can hold up to 215,000 pounds of pellets.
The existing 40-foot silos only hold 140,000 pounds of material, explained Michael McSherry, a technical support expert on expansion projects with Filmtech's parent company. McSherry said 30 years ago, most cars on the railroad carried no more than 150,000 pounds.
McSherry also said the 10 older silos are bolted together, but the new ones will be welded together. He said the older silos still will be used at Filmtech, but bolts can rust and caulking must be maintained.
He said welded silos require virtually no maintenance. And he said shorter silos would have to be wider, which would take up more land, leaving less room for the planned warehouse.
Jordan said the plant now employs about 100 people and that the new silos will add eight more jobs. He estimated 11 rail cars a month deliver plastic pellets to the plant, adding that will increase to 18 rail cars a month with the 10 new silos.
Jordan told zoners the additional silos are needed because his company's business is growing.
McSherry told zoners Filmtech is undergoing a $7 million project to add a new production line. When that is completed, he said the company will go through 44 million pounds of material a year, compared to the
24 million pounds it now uses annually.
Filmtech has been in that south Allentown location for 14 years.
Jordan said the plant previously was located in Easton.
Filmtech is a subsidiary of Sigma Plastics Group, based in Lyndhurst, N.J. Sigma purchased Filmtech six years ago.
Zoners Juan Camacho, Dan McCarthy and Scott Unger unanimously approved the silos.
But on another matter before them, all three rejected a request to turn the first floor of a home at 40-44 S. Fulton St. into an apartment, with a second apartment on the second and third floors.
That request was from Colette Saadeh of Brooklyn, N.Y., who bought the 3,100-square-foot house at Fulton and Walnut streets in 2012. Saadeh said she and members of her family reside on the second and third floors. She wanted approval to turn the first floor, a long-vacant 1,100-square-foot office, into a separate apartment for a friend. That required a zoning variance, which was denied because Saadeh failed to show any hardship.