Alexandria is a caring and compassionate city, where citizens and businesses proudly and publicly proclaim the sentiment of “Spread Kindness, Build Community.” We have a myriad of small businesses — business which, through our patronage and support, not only survive, but thrive. However, as a city and as a community we fell short with respect to the slaughterhouse SUP. The proposal drew opposition from many nearby businesses, residents, and the West End Business Association (WEBA). Health concerns were cited. It is a fact that chickens carry Salmonella from birth to our kitchens. Ethical concerns were expressed. Surrounding businesses stated their concerns about the impact the operation of a 7-day a week slaughterhouse — holding and slaughtering between 100-500 live poultry daily — would have on their survival, much less their growth. Due to the foreseen impacts of smell and noise emanating from this old warehouse that is neither soundproof nor air tight, their current patrons may well decide to go elsewhere for services. These are small mom and pop commercial establishments, some opening in only the past two to five years, and have brought much welcomed and needed change to this area and are now part of the fabric of that neighborhood.
Sadly, those who expressed concerns were called anti-Muslim, Islamophobes, NIMBY’s, and worse. In reality, we just felt abandoned by our city government, chamber of commerce, and those doing the name calling. The lack of compassion for these businesses that currently service our community was frankly astounding.
Subjective reasons are not enough to deny an application for a SUP. That’s where land use and zoning laws come into play. City Council is required to use these laws in their deliberations and actions. The city must ensure that the applicant has measures in place to mitigate impacts and should ensure that the use comports with the existing surrounding businesses. Zoning Code, “Section 11-504,” is very clear that Council take into consideration, “(10) Whether the use will have any substantial or undue adverse effect upon, or will lack amenity or will be incompatible with the use or enjoyment of adjacent and surrounding property, the character of the neighborhood, traffic conditions, parking, utility facilities, and other matters affecting the public health, safety and general welfare.” These categories are broad, not to keep out businesses based on their religious practices, but on how surrounding businesses may be impacted.
Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker found this to be the case when she visited a slaughterhouse owned by the same applicant in Philadelphia. She advised her Council colleagues during Tuesday’s meeting that she spoke with nearby businesses and residents, and nearly all of them told her that, "it doesn't smell every day, but when it does, the smell, it’s unbearable, horrible, enough to make you gag." She said they used words such as "stink" and "stench" and "attracts rats." Based on the evidence she collected during this fact-finding trip and from other information she gathered, and citing Section 11-504, she voted to deny the SUP. These findings are exactly what many of the local businesses and residents are concerned about. It appears from her findings that mitigation measures may not be enough, no matter how diligent the owner is in trying to keep it clean.
These concerns and those raised by Councilwoman Jackson should have focused Council’s attention on matters of land use, the changing landscape of the corridor, and the project’s compatibility with the existing small businesses in the area. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Perhaps City Council should have followed the vice-mayor’s lead and taken a road trip to a Saba’s slaughterhouse before they voted to approve this precedent-setting use here in our amazing city.