Lawsuit filed over chicken slaughterhouse

Lawsuit filed over chicken slaughterhouse
The new poultry butcher shop at 3225 Colvin St. will house and slaughter live chickens. (File photo)

By Missy Schrott |

The drama over the halal poultry butcher shop coming to Alexandria did not end when city council approved the business’ special use permit on March 26.

Council granted the SUP by a vote of 5-2, with Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Amy Jackson voting against the permit. With the vote, council gave DC Poultry Market Corporation, a company also known as Saba Live Poultry that operates 14 locations nationwide, permission to house and butcher live poultry at 3225 Colvin St.

About a month after the SUP approval, 10 businesses and residents filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria and the Alexandria City Council over the decision.

A live chicken butchery was approved to 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)

The plaintiffs in the suit are 3221 Colvin Street Partnership, LLC; McClelland Press, Incorporated; National Capital Flag Company, Incorporated; Simply Doors & Closets, LLC; Fabulous Interior Designs, LLC; Wholesome Baked, LLC; Eugene Stein; Thomas and Diann Hohenthaner; Mary Ann Hollis; and WBC Alexandria, LLC.

Several of the plaintiffs are businesses or businesses owners of companies located near the soon-to-be butcher shop. The butcher shop will also be in close proximity to various pet businesses, including Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, Pinnacle Pet Spa & More and Wholistic Hound Academy, although those businesses are not involved in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are worried about the impact the facility will have on their businesses and contend they were not aware of the coming business, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Elizabeth Seltzer of the Driscoll & Seltzer, PLLC law firm. They also expressed concern that the city approved the SUP apparently without analyzing or placing conditions upon the “slaughter activity,” Seltzer said.

(Read more: Proposed halal poultry butchery goes to public hearing amid controversy)

“If you haven’t smelled the smell that comes from these facilities … I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like a skunk that’s been marinated. It’s horrific,” Veronica Van Deusen, owner of Fabulous Interior Designs and Simply Doors & Closets, said.

On Sept. 25, Judge Lisa B. Kemler granted a motion from the defendants to dismiss the case for lack of standing, according to Seltzer. However, Kemler also allowed the plaintiffs to amend the complaint to “allege more particularized harm to Plaintiffs,” according to Seltzer.

In response to a request for comment, city spokesperson Craig Fifer said the city had no additional comments outside of what is stated in the court filings.

Saba Live Poultry owner Abdulsalem Mused did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Van Deusen said there has been no sign of construction or activity at the butcher shop site.

Since council approved the SUP, various violations at Saba Live Poultry’s other locations have surfaced.

Perhaps most striking was an incident at a Saba location in Bloomfield, Connecticut on July 13. After a young cow at the Saba meat store got loose, Saba employees chased the cow across the street and slit its throat in the parking lot of a Home Depot, according to an NBC Connecticut Investigates article.

The incident prompted federal, state and local agencies to look into the facility. Upon finding a number of violations, including plumbing, ventilation and sanitation issues, the State of Connecticut Department of Agriculture issued a cease and desist order against that Saba location on July 18, requiring them to close the facility.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit has issued multiple warnings about conditions at Saba’s California, Pennsylvania and New York facilities.

“It’s horrific, the amount [of violations] and the sick animals that they’re selling. That multiplies my fear factor as to what is going to happen with Colvin Street, what this is going to turn into,” Van Deusen said.

During council’s discussions on the butcher shop, Bennett-Parker was outspoken against the proposal, as she had visited Saba’s facilities in Philadelphia and collected negative feedback from its neighbors.

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Bennett-Parker said in an emailed statement, “I did not vote in support of the SUP, but Council as a whole made a decision to approve it. The case is going through the court process and we will stand by the court decision.”

Both Van Deusen and Maribeth Nyerges, owner of Maribeth’s Bakery, said they were worried about devaluation of their properties.

Nyerges, a longtime resident who began Maribeth’s Bakery at the Old Town Farmers’ Market, said she’s put millions of dollars into renovating her Colvin Street building, which she owns, rather than leases.

“It’s very disheartening to see, having put such a level of upgrading and care into this neighborhood, to see such a usage added, and it’s very likely going to devalue the values of the properties on the street,” Nyerges said.

Van Deusen said she would not renew her lease if Saba Live Poultry is successful in opening the Colvin Street location.

“I already told my landlord, if this goes through, I am not renewing my lease,” Van Deusen said. “It’s a very foul smell. How are they going to deal with that? It’s going to affect us greatly. I have clients for my interior design business who are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on renovations and I’m not gonna be able to meet them there because I know the first thing they’re going to say is, ‘What the heck is that smell?’”

The plaintiffs have until Oct. 16 to file their revised complaint. Kemler will then determine whether or how the case will proceed.

(Read more: Council approves live poultry butchery)