By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
City council approved the controversial permit for a live poultry butcher shop on Colvin Street at its Tuesday night legislative meeting, just 10 days after a motion to pass had died for lack of a second at the March 16 public hearing.
Councilors John Chapman and Canek Aguirre had been absent on March 16, and rather than defeat the measure at that time, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilors Amy Jackson and Del Pepper voted to defer the measure to Tuesday’s meeting.
The special use permit, which was submitted by the family-owned halal meat market company DC Poultry Market, known as Saba Live Poultry in other jurisdictions, has drawn the ire of residents and nearby business owners over the last few weeks.
The proposed market would house and butcher live poultry according to the halal method, a process of meat preparation under Islamic law that ensures the humane treatment of animals during the process, according to the special use permit application.
Before members of council discussed the matter for nearly an hour and a half on Tuesday, Department of Planning and Zoning staff presented several conditions that the city included with its latest recommendation. It included conditions to ensure the applicant treats waste in the proper way and mandates for air treatment plans to minimize odor and air pollution from the facility.
Councilor Mo Seifeldein put forward a motion, which was seconded by Aguirre, to support staff’s recommendation and approve the permit with the added conditions as well as an amendment to require overnight delivery hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to minimize interference with surrounding businesses.
Aguirre was clear that he believed the proposed land use was something Alexandria needs. Aguirre noted the ethical concerns raised by many residents and said he read more than 200 emails on the topic.
“We also have to live within the realities of our society that we do consume meat and meat products,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre questioned staff at length about several issues, including concerns around odor and noise.
“Regarding odors, we have several conditions: condition six that all live poultry for sale will be stored inside the building at all times,” Urban Planner Ann Horowitz said. “…[Condition] thirteen that the applicant shall control odors, smoke and other air pollution from operations at the site and prevent them from leaving the property.”
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, the staunchest opponent of the permit, provided additional information based on research she and her aides had done, including 29 calls to property owners adjacent to the applicant’s other facilities and a visit to the applicant’s Philadelphia facility.
“The applicant told NBC4 that he’s had no other issues and that you wouldn’t know from the outside there are chickens inside,” Bennett-Parker said. “Neighboring businesses I spoke to [in Philadelphia] suggested otherwise.”
Of the eight people she spoke with, seven cited problems with odor, Bennett-Parker said.
“Another woman said she had never seen an animal but, quote, ‘It really does smell. It doesn’t smell every day, but when it does, it’s horrible,’” Bennett-Parker said. “Others used words like ‘stink’ and ‘stench.’”
According to the vice mayor, others mentioned delivery trucks blocking driveways and chickens occasionally escaping into adjacent properties. Bennett-Parker concluded by making clear her opposition to the motion.
“I welcome the applicant to Alexandria and to start a business in our city that sells halal meat, however I cannot support the current concept given the presence of live poultry and relevant impacts, which I do not think can be mitigated through conditions,” Bennett-Parker said.
Several councilors, including Aguirre and Chapman, expressed concern that parking and traffic in the area, which is already a problem, would be exacerbated by the presence of the chicken butchery and the newly approved restaurant Yates Pizza.
Horowitz responded that the number of customers the applicant anticipated on an hourly and daily basis – 30 to 50 customers a day – combined with the site’s four on-street parking spots would not impact parking on Colvin Street.
Jackson remained concerned the poultry market could negatively impact parking and traffic in the area. Jackson pointed out that many of the public speakers she spoke with after the hearing on March 16 were from outside Alexandria.
“When I’m hearing that a lot of people that come to the public hearing do not live in Alexandria but want this establishment here so they don’t have to travel to Warrenton or Fredericksburg or Philadelphia, that says to me, do we have the infrastructure to support all the people that will be coming here for this specific reason,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s comments were followed by applause from residents in attendance. Mayor Justin Wilson reminded the crowd that this was not a public hearing and threatened to close council chambers if there was continued interference with the meeting.
Aguirre closed his initial line of questioning by emphasizing that the closest facility of this kind is in Warrenton, which is 52 miles away.
“We’re putting more people on the roads in their cars as opposed to potentially on public transit to come down to the Duke corridor to pick up their halal meat and then going back home,” Aguirre said.
Chapman echoed many of Aguirre’s concerns, especially around parking and traffic. However, Chapman, who lives near the Duke Street corridor, emphasized that the conversation around traffic is a long-needed one but not one that should be used to “choke out another business,” he said.
“To my colleagues, please do not use traffic as a concern because that neighborhood traffic is not something that this business is going to bring about the downfall of,” Chapman said. “The downfall has already happened.”
After heated discussion between many members of council, Wilson said that throughout his eight years on council, he had never encountered a use permit as hotly debated as this one.
Wilson said he did not believe the ethical concerns should affect a land use case and asserted that many of the concerns are addressed by the conditions included by the city.
“My view is that the conditions that are imposed here will go farther than any other business in this corridor in managing odor,” Wilson said.
Seifeldein’s motion passed by a vote of 5-2, with Bennett-Parker and Jackson dissenting. Pepper, who had voiced opposition to the butchery at the March 16 public hearing, voted in favor on Tuesday night.
One resident stood up and remained with his back to council as the vote occurred. After the vote was tallied, several residents in attendance left council chambers shouting, “Shame.”