Proposed halal poultry butchery goes to public hearing amid controversy

Proposed halal poultry butchery goes to public hearing amid controversy
(Photo Credit: City of Alexandria)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

City council will vote on a proposed special use permit for a halal poultry market and live butcher shop at Saturday’s public hearing, and the proposed project is drawing concern from residents and business owners alike.

Applicant DC Poultry Market, a family-owned halal meat market operation known as Saba Live Poultry in other jurisdictions, would occupy 5,245 square feet at 3225 Colvin St., according to the Department of Planning and Zoning staff report.

“The applicant would operate a butcher shop where the halal method of meat preparation would be applied using live poultry,” according to the staff report. DC Poultry Market did not respond to several requests for a comment.

The halal method is a process for the slaughter of animals and preparation of meat that is governed by Islamic law and designed to guarantee the humane treatment of animals throughout the process, according to the special use permit application. Chickens are not killed within sight of other chickens, but they are kept within a windowless room while at the facility in order to reduce noise for nearby properties.

“When [customers] are brought in, they are brought to the rear of the space where the chickens are kept and they pick the chicken that they want prepared,” Urban Planner Chrishaun Smith said. “After they pick the chicken, they go back to the waiting room and a manager or somebody working on the site that’s licensed to do the preparation prepares the live chicken.”

The planning commission approved the special use permit during its March 5 meeting, sending the proposal before council for consideration. Several residents and business owners expressed their concerns to the planning commission and city staff about the presence and ethical implications of a slaughterhouse in Alexandria.

“I am disgusted with the thought that this city would permit such an operation in a city that promotes itself as being animal friendly,” Deborah Cureton, a concerned resident, wrote in an email to the city.

According to Smith, there are some measures in place, outside of those related to the halal method, that ensure the chickens are treated well. Facilities of this kind are regulated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which gives the facility its license and conducts regular inspections to ensure the safety and welfare of the chickens.

“As part of the licensing agreement, the applicant will have fresh air pumped into the facility and they will also provide food and water for the chickens while they are located at the facility,” Smith said.

The proposed halal poultry butchery would sit on 3225 Colvin St. (Photo/City of Alexandria)

While the site is not adjacent to residents, it is surrounded by local businesses, including several animal care businesses that cater to families. Frolick Dogs is directly across the street from the proposed site.

Sandy Modell, owner of Wholistic Hound Academy, is concerned about more than just the ethical implications. Wholistic Hound Academy sits on Roth Street, a cross street to Colvin, and, according to Modell, is only one of many animal care businesses in the area that could be impacted by the smell, noise and general presence of a slaughterhouse.

According to Modell, the presence of a slaughterhouse would interfere with the fundamental purpose of many of the new, thriving businesses in the area: caring for and housing dogs.

“Dogs catch that scent of chicken and they’re going to be distracted and very highly aroused,” Modell said.

The impact of the slaughterhouse on a still developing area of the city is Modell’s primary concern, she said.

“It has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with having a slaughterhouse inside the City of Alexandria in an area that’s surrounded by thriving businesses and other businesses that want to not be impacted,” Modell said.

Modell also pointed to what she and many other concerned residents believe are inconsistencies within the original application in regard to information about hours of operation, waste treatment plans and delivery schedules.

“Because of where it’s located, in an industrial area, commercial area, and specifically not located directly adjacent to residential – the closest residential is more than 700 feet away from this facility – we do not foresee major impacts in terms of odor or noise for residents,” Smith said.

For the city, the proposed project offers a new kind of service for Alexandrians. This would be the first facility of its kind in Alexandria and northern Virginia.

“The applicant has said there is a demand for this kind of establishment in northern Virginia, especially in Alexandria and portions of Fairfax County as the demographics change in the city,” Smith said.

Also on the docket for Saturday’s public hearing are SUP requests for Yates Pizza and Executive Diner, both located on Duke Street, and the pay-to-park pilot program in Old Town.