The group that proposed to build a $1 million slaughterhouse in Westport has withdrawn its request to appear before the city’s zoning board to obtain permission for the project.
The cancellation notice, sent on Monday to the city’s Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, means that the project as originally conceived has at least been put on hold, if not shelved entirely.
“We want to cancel our petition” for an appeals hearing before the zoning board, wrote Mohamed Elkazaz and Mohammed Huda, two members of the group that proposed a slaughterhouse for a property at 2701 Manokin Street in Westport.
The land is a few blocks away from a 43-acre parcel that a group led by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank bought for redevelopment in 2015.
City officials say the applicants may have other options for moving ahead with a slaughterhouse that wouldn’t require approval from the zoning board, but they aren’t aware that they are being pursued.
In their original filing with the city, the applicants said they wanted to use 2701 Manokin Street “as a slaughterhouse that will include packaging of meats and poultry and retail sales.”
A public hearing on the project had not been scheduled when the applicants canceled their request for a meeting. Some Westport residents have indicated that they have concerns about a slaughterhouse opening in their community and will oppose it.
The Manokin Street property has been listed for sale by Gold and Company. According to the company’s listing, it contains a 14,930-square-foot structure with two drive-in doors and “heavy power and gas.”
The property is currently zoned M-3 for heavy industrial use, which means a slaughterhouse is permitted. But retail space is not automatically allowed in an M-3 district, and that would need approval from the zoning board.
To complicate matters, the city’s TransForm rezoning process recommended rezoning the land for light industrial use, which doesn’t include a slaughterhouse, but that change doesn’t take effect until the middle of 2017.
Elkazaz and Huda have slaughterhouse operations in New York City and Philadelphia and are part of a group that has a contract to buy 2701 Manokin Street. Because they want to have a sales operation on a property with heavy industrial zoning, they requested a hearing with the zoning board.
Elkazaz said yesterday that his group canceled its request for a zoning board hearing because some partners in his group have indicated they don’t want to invest in the project. He said the $1 million project needs funding before it can move ahead, and he wants to make sure he has investors willing to move ahead.
“Some of our partners walked out,” he said. “They don’t want to continue…That’s why we canceled.”
Asked whether he still desires to move ahead, Elkazaz said he needs to know what all of his partners want to do.
“Maybe we canceled the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t know. I can’t say for sure. There are many different opinions” within the group.
Elkazas said the January 9 request to cancel the hearing was not a response to opposition voiced by Westport residents. But he said he believes some people in Baltimore have the wrong impression about the kind of operation his group proposed to build.
“This is not a slaughterhouse,” he said. “This is a live poultry market. It’s not a slaughterhouse, as in slaughterhouse.”
Besides chickens and roosters, Elkazas said, the business would include “a little bit of small animals, like lambs and goats.” He said it would not disturb the peace. “I promise it’s not going to make noise.”
Elkazaz said he has been in business since 1993. He said his New York operation employs more than 30, his Philadelphia business employs 23, and the Baltimore business would likely employ a comparable number as well as paying property taxes.
“This is a good thing for the community,” he said. “More jobs, more organic meat. It’s a $1 million investment. We pay taxes. We don’t do hunky bunky business.”
When he goes to Baltimore, he said. “I see many poor areas, people in the streets. We’re trying to help, not to hurt.
Geoffrey Veale, the zoning administrator for Baltimore City, said the city’s zoning code permits a retail operation to be set up on an industrially zoned property without zoning board approval if it is determined to be an “accessory” use to the primary use on the property.
Another option, city officials say, would be to have the slaughterhouse in one location where zoning permits it, and have a retail use in a separate location where retail uses are permitted.
Veale said the applicants can ask his office to decide whether they can open a retail operation as an accessory use to a slaughterhouse on Manokin Street, but they had not done so as of yesterday.
Once a plan is submitted, “we’d have to make a decision about whether the retail use is accessory to the primary use,” Veale said. If they want to submit a plan, “we’d have to take a look at it and see what’s permitted.”
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