ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A retail halal butcher shop that slaughters chickens on site will be allowed to open in a small industrial area of Alexandria, a divided city council decided Tuesday night, despite pressure from nearby business owners and their patrons.
The council voted 5-2 to approve a special use permit for DC Live Poultry Market on a block that houses three dog day-care or training facilities as well as the city’s hazardous waste recycling center, a construction company, an auto repair shop and landscaping business. No residences are nearby.
Neighboring businesses, led by a handful of pet day-care owners, objected vociferously to the arrival of the market, owned by Abdulsalem Mused and his family, which plans to slaughter and sell an estimated 100 to 200 chickens a day, up to an estimated 500 on holidays. Opponents inundated the all-Democratic council with more than 200 emails and calls, even after a March 16 public hearing where they predicted noise, smell, traffic and parking troubles.
The short-handed council, intimidated by the objections at that time, took the unusual step of delaying a vote for 10 days. Canek Aguirre, who was at a college friend’s wedding, and John Taylor Chapman, who was at his own wedding, returned Tuesday to provide the votes needed to pass the permit, along with Mayor Justin Wilson and member Mo Seifeldein.
“I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” said Aguirre, one of four members in his first term on the council. He said he respected the opinions of vegetarians, animal rights activists and others horrified by animals’ deaths, but “we do have to live within the reality of our society that we do consume meat and meat products.”
He quoted some of the letters, including a portion of one by Peter Wood of Silver Spring, who called poultry markets “filthy and disease-ridden hellholes rife with suffering, misery and death. Furthermore, ritual slaughter is decidedly inhumane …. Please don’t allow an inherently cruel, bloody and violent business to open shop within [the city’s] confines.”
Aguirre then methodically asked a series of questions of city employees, addressing each of the opponents’ main complaints. In the end, the council passed the land-use permit with conditions that require extra control for aromas and waste disposal, and required the chickens, which will arrive by a closed box truck, to be delivered between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Council members Amy Jackson and vice mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker voted no. Jackson said the two-lane street is inadequate to handle additional demand that the butcher shop customers will create. The street has very little curbside parking and commuters use it as shortcut to the clogged Duke Street during rush hours.
Bennett-Parker said in the past 10 days she has researched the business at some of its 14 other locations by calling neighbors, and even visiting Philadelphia last weekend, where the business operates as Saba Live Poultry. Neighbors that she reached complained about “stink and stench … unbearable in the summer,” she said.
Owner Abdulsalem Mused said in his permit application that the operations within the 5,200-square-foot, windowless concrete block building would not bother neighbors – he plans to truck in chickens as needed and store the waste from the slaughter in an enclosed freezer and dispose of it daily, also by truck. He is also required to install an odor-controlling ventilation system.
A special-use permit was needed because keeping live poultry overnight is not a specified use in Alexandria’s industrial zone. Alexandria’s planning commission recommended granting the permit, and the city’s health department said Tuesday that the business presented no public health concerns either for animals or people.
Halal meat is prepared according to Islamic law. Although it is available in several local stores, the nearest halal slaughterhouse is in Warrenton, about 90 minutes from Alexandia. It is not known how many Muslims live in Northern Virginia, but more than 7,700 Ethiopians and 1,100 north Africans, where the Muslim religion is common, reside in Alexandria alone, according to U.S. Census data. Alexandria has a population of about 150,000.
Opponents, who chanted “shame, shame” after the vote, were particularly enraged by council veteran Del Pepper, who had been heavily lobbied to vote no. She acknowledged that in the past she had called Colvin Street “the armpit of the city,” but it has begun to gentrify in the past few years, with the arrival of the pet day-care businesses, a commercial bakery, Rocklands Barbeque at the end of the street, and the approval just 10 days ago of Yates Pizza around the corner.
But this was a land-use question, not a question of the city’s preferred business, she said.
“It appears there is not a legal leg to stand on, so I will be voting for it,” Pepper said from the dais. “But it is not the land use I hoped for.”
Outside the council room minutes later, Sandy Modell, owner of the nearby Wholistic Hound Academy, declared “Del is out. Her time has come.” Modell said she would consult with her neighbors about what next step they will take.
Mused waited until the hallway hubub subsided in order to avoid a confrontation, before leaving the council room.
“I’m happy, but I want to make neighbors happy, too,” he said. He said he would write a letter to the neighbors and “build a facility to their satisfaction. I may never see the council again, but I will see my neighbors every day.”
His nephew, Abo Mused, agreed.
“Once we’re up and running, it’s going to be nothing like they think it is,” he said. “We’re not Tyson, we’re not Perdue. We’re a family business.”