It sits tucked away amid trees on Montgomery’s Factory Street, overshadowed by the more famous City Winery. Few village residents may even be aware of the tannery business that dates back nearly 500 years.
That’s the story of Pergamena, a family-owned business that began in Eisenburg, Germany in 1550, when members of the Meyer family first took up tanning and leatherwork. Over the centuries, it branched out, working with an expanding range of animal skins. Around 1830, the company’s website states “the New World beckoned, and Wilhelm Meyer moved the family business overseas, first to Philadelphia, then to New Jersey in 1856, operating in North Bergen for the next 130 years. During that time, Wilhelm’s grandson incorporated the family business using his own name, Richard E. Meyer & Sons.”
Finally, in 1981, the tannery relocated to its current home, acquiring the Factory Street property from the Crabtree family, owners of Montgomery Mill. Now, its current owner says, they are ready to expand.
“When my father built the building, it was for a very particular product that we aren’t making,” owner Jesse Meyer told the Montgomery Village Board last week.
The company currently produces leather and parchment products and works with shoe manufacturers.
“We’re kinda tripping over ourselves,” said Meyer, a direct descendant of the company’s founder who lists former U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams among his ancestors. “We’d like to be able to expand.”
Currently the operation is located on two floors of the building. Meyer would like to expand enough so that all of the manufacturing can be contained on the first floor.
“We’ve done our best to be good neighbors and also laid low, so that we don’t upset folks around us because we realized we are a bit hemmed in there with a lot of residential properties around us,” Meyer said. “We’re also hoping to be able to extend responsibly and be able to stay in this area.”
“We’d certainly like to keep you there,” said Mayor Steve Brescia. “The only issue is you’re going to triple the size of a non-conforming use.”
Engineer Ross Winglovitz said his client proposes to extend the current building from its current footprint of 3,600 square feet to one of 7,200 square feet.
“So from the street you’ll see the same building which you can’t even see actually because it’s completely wooded, so what you’ll see is the driveway, Winglovitz said.
Safety is also a concern at the tannery, where animal skins are piled, waiting to be turned into leather.
“You had a bad incident there where there could have been a bad outcome,” Brescia said. “And that’s a concern.”
The mayor was referring to a hazardous materials incident that took place in June at the factory. Orange County 9-11 reported that multiple people inside the building had been overcome by chemicals used to treat the animal skins, and at least one of them was rendered unconscious. Several local fire departments, including Montgomery, Walden and Coldenham, were dispatched to the scene along with local and state police, ambulance services and the Orange County HazMat team.
The incident was reportedly contained, and the location was deemed safe by fire and Haz-Mat personnel. The fire department reported that EMS treated multiple patients and transported them. There was no threat to the outside public.
Winglovitz said safety is an issue because of how crammed the working conditions are.
“This is a dilemma. The building is tucked away where you hardly notice it,” Brescia said. “What kind of assurances are we going to have for safety, to prevent what happened from happening again?”
Meyer said the company has been in touch with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to address their concerns.
“We are more than happy to do whatever is necessary to maintain safety,” he added.
At least one village trustee appeared to be supportive.
“As long as the neighbors are OK with it and the residents are OK with it, I’d be OK with it,” said Trustee Mike Hembury. “We toured your factory years ago, my daughter with the Girl Scouts, and I remember you were on Dirty Jobs, (a Discovery Channel TV series hosted by Mike Rowe) twice. So I was very impressed with it. I’m just concerned with the neighbors. If they say OK, then I’m alright with that.”
Winglovitz said current zoning allows a non-conforming use to expand no more than 50 percent, which, he said would not be sufficient. He asked the village board for a zoning amendment to allow the expansion. Without it, the only other option to remain at the current site would be to get a variance from the Montgomery Zoning Board of Appeals.
Brescia said the issue might become a topic for a future meeting between the village board of trustees and the planning board. That joint meeting, he added, might not take place until sometime in October.