Council defers vote on live poultry butcher shop

Council defers vote on live poultry butcher shop
The live chicken butchery will be located at 3225 Colvin St. The one-story building is 7,250 square feet and is surrounded by a mixture of industrial and commercial uses. (Photo Credit: Cody Mello-Klein)

By Missy Schrott |

City council deferred a decision on whether to approve a live poultry butcher shop on Colvin Street to its next legislative session, despite it being one of the most anticipated and controversial topics discussed at Saturday’s public hearing.

The proposed business is a halal poultry market and live butcher shop that would be operated by DC Poultry Market, a nationwide halal meat operation also known as Saba Live Poultry. Customers would choose their chickens from a windowless holding room, then wait on the premises for the chickens to be killed and prepared for them to take home.

The halal meat preparation method is governed by Islamic law and designed to guarantee the humane treatment of animals throughout the process, according to the business’ special use permit application.

Nineteen people testified before council during the public hearing period, 10 against the proposal and nine in support of it.

Those opposed to the project expressed concern about the precedent an approval of this kind would set and its impact on neighboring pet and animal businesses. Within two blocks of the business’ proposed location at 3225 Colvin St. are Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, Wild Bird Center, Pinnacle Pet Spa & More and Wholistic Hound Academy.

Several of the speakers also mentioned that Colvin Street is the location of Alexandria’s Love Your Pet Day, an annual block party at which Alexandrians celebrate their animals.

“I think it’d be really difficult to get Alexandria together to love your pets if you’re walking in front of a slaughterhouse,” Kevin Gilliam, co-owner of Frolick Dogs, said.

Others said approval could set a precedent for approving almost any proposed new business that is not explicitly forbidden in the zoning ordinance. In this case, the “overnight keeping of live animals” was not listed as a use within the city zoning ordinance, but it could be permitted to operate in industrial zones of the city with the approval of a special use permit.

“If city council moves to grant an SUP today, the city council is making a forever decision,” Mark Williams said. “The city council is making a determination that in fact, animal slaughter and other activities not at all contemplated under the current zoning ordinance are in fact appropriate for the industrial zoning category.”

The nine people who spoke in support of the proposal talked about the need for a halal butcher in Alexandria, the popularity of fresh meat and the aspects of the business that make it appropriate for Alexandria.

“It should be allowed when there is no good reason not to allow it,” resident Jeff Reid said. “There is even more at stake in this instance in the property rights of the proposed operator of this building.”

Several of those who spoke in favor of the proposal live in neighboring Fairfax County and said a live poultry shop in Alexandria would allow them to purchase their meat closer to home.

During council deliberations, councilors asked staff about logistics of the business, including air filtration, chicken delivery times, trash pick-up times, parking and inspections.

Regarding zoning, Mayor Justin Wilson said he found the use to be appropriate for an industrial zoned area.

“I do believe that this meets the zoning that is on this site,” Wilson said. “We cannot take a case that’s before us and rezone it on the fly and wish what the zoning would say. We have to apply the zoning that’s here. … This applicant is complying with the law.”

Addressing concerns about the location and nearby animal businesses, Councilor Mo Seifeldein said he hadn’t heard any evidence that the operation would cause harm to the animals in neighboring facilities.

However, when Seifeldein moved to approve the proposal, he didn’t have the buy in of his fellow councilors. Two attempts at motions to approve the proposal died for the lack of a second, despite Wilson’s support, since the mayor is not advised to make or second motions.

After the two failed motions, Seifeldein put forward a motion to defer the vote to council’s legislative meeting on March 26 so that council could have more time to look into the proposal and take a vote with all seven members present. Councilors John Chapman and Canek Aguirre were absent from Saturday’s hearing.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker seconded the motion, and it was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Wilson casting the dissenting vote.