MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon City Council members voted on Monday to vacate a portion of Lewis Street and South Alley and rezone a West Vine Street parcel, moves that position the Central Ohio Farmers Co-op for future expansion.
Council approved vacating Lewis Street between Vine and Gambier streets and the eastern end of South Alley running along co-op property. The co-op is looking to install a truck scale and office on the vacated section.
Council also approved rezoning the parcel at 600 W. Vine St. from R-2 residential to GB (general business). The co-op currently uses it as a parking lot for its trucks and equipment but wants to potentially install grain equipment in the future.
“What we’re trying to do is expand a little bit. We would like to move our grain scale over on Lewis Street,” Jamison Price, manager of the Mount Vernon branch of Central Ohio Farmers Co-op, explained.
Citing safety as a primary factor in moving the scale, Price said that with the scale on the south side of Gambier Street, drivers have a blind corner as they cross Gambier and enter the co-op weigh area.
“We try to be good stewards to the city, and we want to stay in the city. It’s not our goal to move out of the city. It’s our intention to stay there and provide jobs and tighten up our operations,” he said.
Price said part of the desire to tighten up operations is security.
“We’ve been having a lot of vandalism done. We’d like to get it to where we can get it tighter and fence it in for safety,” he said.
The co-op employs 15 people in Mount Vernon. Price said acquiring Lewis Street and South Alley and rezoning 600 W. Vine has the potential to increase operations, but it has more of a potential to save.
“The amount of money we’re looking to put in at this facility, we could move out to Clinton Township and start over. That’s not our intention; that’s not our want. It’s more trying to save our people’s jobs and stay where we’re at,” he said.
“Our customers want us where we are. They don’t want to have to transition through town, go back out, and go back out Harcourt. They want to come in, get in and get out.”
From an engineering standpoint, City Engineer Brian Ball said Lewis Street does not have any utilities. There is a small piece of sewer on South Alley which the city will still be able to access easily.
“The one thing that is difficult to see is this site is served by the railroad. If they move to Clinton Township or out of town, there’s no chance to haul grain by rail,” Ball said, adding that if the co-op moves out of town, corn going to Coshocton County would come into town, be unloaded into a grain bin, and then hauled back to 229 or 36 to Coshocton County.
“We do support this with the idea that there is an option for rail and that the market and things work to use the rail; it does save quite a bit of trucks,” he said.
Ball previously said that 600 to 800 trucks a year unload grain at the co-op.
“From a master plan perspective, we want to get them back in service where as much of the grain that is received there can leave by rail,” he said at the May 22 council meeting. “Hopefully with this master plan it will also reduce some traffic.”
The co-op cannot expand to the east because setting a grain bin on the aqueduct would require an enormous amount of structural engineering and cost.
Additionally, Ball said trucks leaving the current scale drive over the aqueduct. A few years ago, drivers collapsed the aqueduct, which required a complete repair under West Gambier Street.
“I think that this is a positive thing in the city to demonstrate our commitment to the agricultural areas in the surrounding county,” Council woman Amber Keener said. “So I’m very much for this.”
According to Fred Lorey’s “History of Knox County, Ohio 1876-1976,” the Mount Vernon Farmers Exchange formed in 1918. It recorded $3.3 million in sales in 1974.
A 1971 fire destroyed its feed mill on Vine and West streets; construction started on a new plant on Kinney Road, which opened in August 1973.
In 1976, Farmers Exchange operations also included a grain and hardware department on West Vine, adjacent to the area of the 1971 fire, and the Colonial Feed and Seed Center on West Gambier.
In 2000, the Mount Vernon Farmers Exchange merged with Marion Landmark. The name was also changed to Central Ohio Farmers Co-op in 2000.
The co-op sold the hardware store to the Caplin family in 2002. The store closed in August 2019.
The mill on Kinney Road closed in May 2012, but the co-op retains the property.
Price said the co-op owns the former Movers and Shuckers grain facility in Fredericktown, which is a 2.5 million bushel facility. The Mount Vernon grain facility is 324,000 bushels.
“Linking those numbers, Mount Vernon averages about 1.9 billion bushels of grain a year,” Price said. “The customers in Knox County do not want to go to Fredericktown. They want to come here, get in, and get out. So there’s a lot of grain that goes through this facility.”
Price noted that everyone thinks the Mount Vernon facility is a small grain facility.
“But if you look at the numbers, Mount Vernon grain facility is larger than Mount Gilead. It’s almost as large as our grain facility in Monnett and it closes in on Waldo,” he said.
“It’s really just a jewel. And it’s really the community that supports it.”
Price said it will take a year to get the new scale, so little will change in the interim.