Alexandria, VA: The Alexandria City Council approved the operation of a Halal chicken slaughterhouse and butcher shop 5-2 on March 26, ending the latest chapter of dramatic issue for the city. There were jeers from some residents after the decision was made, and one man repeatedly cried, “Shame on you!” as he walked out of Council Chambers.
Abdul Mused, the owner DC Poultry Market Corp., was somewhat displeased after the vote. He said that he wants to work with his neighbors and will invite them to a tour of the facility when it is ready. Mused owns more than a dozen other Halal slaughterhouses on the east coast – all of them in industrial areas.
“I’m happy, but I’m not happy,” he said walking out of City Hall. “Our intent is to make everybody satisfied. We know that’s a long shot, because you can’t satisfy everybody, but we will try our best in good faith to work with everybody. This might be the last time that we see these people on council, but we will see our neighbors every day and we need to coexist. We’re very happy that we got the vote, but we’re unhappy because a lot of our neighbors are in opposition to this and we wanted them to be on board. They are afraid of the unknown. There’s a lot of misleading information, misconceptions and misperceptions whatever it might be, but I feel very confident that once we build out our place and see that it’s efficient and clean, there won’t be any noise and they’ll realize a lot of what they feared isn’t reality.”
The industrial area of Colvin Street is often choked with traffic as a cut-through between Duke and Van Dorn Streets. City staff reported that the 5,245 square-foot facility would receive an average of 30 to 50 customers daily and that traffic would not be adversely impacted. Also, all chicken-related waste will be picked up daily and kept indoors in a refrigerated room. Between 100 to 300 chickens (and up to 500, but no limit was imposed) will be delivered daily between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. in a box truck from Lancaster County, Pa.
Mayor Justin Wilson said that the business has been restricted more than any of its neighbors in terms of odor.
“I thank the community for all of the input that we’ve received. I will admit some of it from every perspective has been extreme in some cases on both sides,” Wilson said. ““For the entire time I’ve been on council there’s never been a use permit that I’ve experienced that’s like this one. The level of public input, the level of attention, and it’s surprising to be honest, especially for one that went through the planning commission unanimously without any public comment.”
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Amy Jackson voted against the measure. Bennett-Parker traveled to one of Mused’s facilities in Philadelphia and spoke with a number of the company’s neighbors about their experiences.
One of the neighbors described the facility’s smell as “unbearable in the summer and not as bad in the winter,” Bennett-Parker said. “In the summer, she described it as horrific. I welcome the applicant to Alexandria and to start a business in our city that sells Halal meat, however I can not support the current concept given the presence of live poultry and relevant impacts that I do not think can be mitigated through conditions.”
The council vote backed the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation to amend the special use permit and allow chickens to live at the facility overnight. DC Poultry Market Corp. will be located at 3225 Colvin St., but its neighbors – many of which are dog-related businesses – aren’t happy. The block is home to the Wholistic Hound Dog Academy, Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, Pinnacle Pet Spa & More and the Wild Bird Center of Alexandria. Many of the owners are worried that bringing a slaughterhouse to the neighborhood will impact their bottom lines.
“Mr. Mused said he wants to be a good neighbor and we want him to know that we will hold him to that,” said Sandy Modell, the owner of Wholistic Hound. “I respect Mr. Mused, his comments about being compatible in the neighborhood and it is clean – if he can’t meet that goal, I will be all in favor of it, but I am not looking at this as fear of the unknown, but of the facts that the use is not allowed in the city. I commend Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker and Councilor Amy Jackson for doing the due diligence that was required on a use of this nature that has never been under deliberation before. And I especially commend the vice mayor for going to Philly and look at a comparable halal slaughterhouse and come back and tell council that during the summer there is an unbearable smell, but it is concerning that they refused to take that into account.“
Council was supposed to vote on the measure at its March 16 public hearing, but with two members absent and three councilors unwilling to second a motion by Councilor Mo Seifeldein to amend the delivery hours of the operation, the matter was pushed ten days. Councilor John Chapman was got married on March 16, and Aguirre attended another wedding.
“That should not happen. That should never happen in the Alexandria City Council,” Chapman said. “Council members had enough information to make a decision. That should have happened. But we are here now.”
Council imposed a number of conditions, including the hours of operation must be limited from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., all live poultry should be stored inside the building and trash and garbage should be stored in sealed containers that “do not allow odors to escape, invasion by animals or leaking.”
Aguirre, who commended Bennett-Parker for traveling to Philadelphia, said that he read more than 200 emails from members of the community.
“We also have to live within the reality of our society, that we do consume meat and meat products,” he said. “I understand the passion of individuals behind this, but I was also concerned with a lot of the language that was used in some of the correspondence. It was very disturbing, to be frank. And so I want to go through a couple of adjectives that were being thrown around and used regularly throughout – and mind you this is over 200 emails both for and against that I have gone through and read every single one, and here are some of the things: Inhumane conditions, barbaric and cruel, nasty, dirty, that this is inconceivable, the it’s destructive impact, that it’s filthy, disgusting, ritual slaughter, that it putrefy and sickens, that it’s an egregious act akin to manufacturing bombs…”
The full-service butcher and Halal facility will be open every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The way it works is that live chickens are delivered in coops from an Amish community in Lancaster, PA., three times a week, and transferred to stainless steel cages in view for the customers. A number is attached to the chicken’s leg by a wire, and the customer is given a ticket with the number.
“All meat and poultry we process will be slaughtered strictly in accordance with Islamic rites, where one of the most important prerequisites is the humane treatment of any animal intended for human food,” Mused wrote in the SUP application, adding that the company “believes that concept of Halal involves the whole process of meat production, from the wholesome food feel to the animals in their rearing right through until the meat reaches the consumer.”