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December 24, 2010

Albemarle panel debates slaughterhouse rules

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DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, December 24, 2010

A divided Albemarle County Planning Commission could not reach consensus earlier this week on whether to relax rules that govern where animal slaughterhouses can be operated.

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No slaughterhouses operate in the county today and planning staff recommended changes, in part to satisfy the growing interest in the local food movement. The debate over slaughterhouses is also part of an ongoing review of the zoning ordinance to satisfy a directive from the Board of Supervisors to promote economic development.

“What you will see potentially happening in the coming years is more of a local demand for ways to process local food products,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning. “The turn there seems to be towards having more local food available for local sales.”

“We do have a lot of folks who raise cattle and they have to take their animals outside of the area over fairly long distances,” said Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development facilitator.

Currently, slaughterhouses are only allowed in heavy industrial zones with a special-use permit. Staff had recommended dropping that requirement, except when the operator wanted to render inedible parts of slaughtered animals into some form of marketable byproduct.

“What we’ve tried to do is to identify opportunities to make industrial districts more viable for modern industrial operations,” Cilimberg said. “In the first phase we moved certain by-right heavy industry uses into the light industrial category by special-use permit.”

Commissioner Linda Porterfield said she opposed the change.

“There are many considerations with a slaughterhouse, including the runoff,” Porterfield said. “There’s noise, bringing in the animals, killing the animals … They need a lot of water for this particular kind of business.”

Porterfield noted that the existing public hearing requirement with a special-use permit gives the community a chance to make certain that slaughterhouses are located in appropriate locations.

“Without a slaughterhouse available, people are doing these types of activities on their own,” said zoning official J.T. Newberry. “Having a slaughterhouse that would be able to accommodate some of their plans for the future might be a use we would want to consider.”

Commissioners Russell Lafferty and Tom Loach agreed with Porterfield’s position, but Commissioners Don Franco, Duane Zobrist and Calvin Morris said they could support the change. Commissioner Ed Smith was not present at the Tuesday meeting.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum argued to accept the staff recommendation because it would fulfill a local demand.

“Albemarle County defers a great deal of tax base to allow [the land use tax program], and in the Comprehensive Plan, you support agricultural production,” Williamson said. “Cows become hamburger.Why would you create barriers to discourage the end result of the activity that you’re encouraging on the other side?”

Performance standards for how slaughterhouses would be regulated have not yet been written, but will be discussed by the commission during the next phase of the review of industrial zoning.
Commissioners agreed not to give a direction on slaughterhouses until that information was made available.

The ordinance review also is taking a look at whether office and residential uses should be restricted in the light industrial zones because of the relative scarcity of that type of land in the county.

“Concerns have been expressed previously that we may be losing some of our industrial land to non-industrial activities,” Cilimberg said.

To protect industrial land, staff recommended that commercial office uses require a special-use permit for all industrial districts.

Staff also proposed that homes be allowed in light industrial districts but only with a special-use permit.

“There may be areas in industrial zonings where residential uses are appropriate because if it’s a large employment area, people may want to live near where they work,” Cilimberg said.

Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he supports those changes.

“The encroachment of commercial uses into industrially designated land is a significant issue,” Butler said. “Not only does it affect the supply of industrial land in the county, but it also drives up the cost, making it unaffordable for would-be industrial users to move here.”

A public hearing on the changes will be held early next year.

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