By. Neil Williamson, President
Albemarle County, which has 177,000 acres of farmland, is home to 23,000 head of cattle at last count. Considering the community’s desire for local food, it is amazing not one of these steers will be processed locally for commercial consumption. That’s right, the cows must commute over 60 miles to be processed.
Albemarle County’s Planning Commission closed their 2010 with a discussion of by right uses in heavy and light industrial lands. The topic that has received the most attention has been their split decision (3-2) regarding slaughterhouses.
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.” …
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.”
The closest slaughterhouse to Charlottesville is in Harrisonburg, sixty miles from Charlottesville proper and up to 75 miles from Scottsville. Anecdotal evidence shows some farmers shipping their cattle as far as Baltimore for processing.
Slaughterhouses are among the most highly regulated businesses in the United States. In addition, Albemarle County retains the ability to draft supplementary regulations and performance standard for by right uses.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes keeping slaughterhouses as a special use permit will create significant uncertainty and even if such an application came foreword it would become a political issue not one based in solid land use decisions.
Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan Economic Development chapter (amended March 2009) states:
We will work to encourage a mix of uses, and a balance of jobs and housing within our development areas, in keeping with our commitment to the Neighborhood model form of development. We will work with resident and new agricultural enterprises to, in an environmentally sustainable manner, maximize their productivity and tourism opportunities as a part of our overall strategy to preserve the rich agrarian tradition and texture of our rural areas. We recognize our position, along with the City of Charlottesville, as the center of the regional economy. We recognize the economic objectives of other localities in the region, while renewing our commitment to our own economic development within the framework of our growth management objectives
The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a supporter of agricultural enterprises that make the rural areas financially sustainable. Based on this position, we believe slaughterhouses should be a by right use in the heavy industrial (and perhaps light industrial) land in Albemarle County .
To be clear, we are not convinced that a slaughterhouse could be economically viable considering the current market rates for industrial lands but we believe it is ideologically incongruent to support land use taxation to encourage agricultural uses and then require a special use permit [and requisite public hearing] to complete the lifecycle of this important agricultural product.
We are encouraged that a majority (though not a consensus) of the Albemarle County Planning Commission was in favor of considering bringing slaughterhouses as a by right use to public hearing in the near future. In addition, we applaud Albemarle County staff for bringing this topic forward as a part of the zoning ordinance revision.
Hopefully, when we next ask “where’s the beef” we can point to our local beef being processed locally.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org