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Early Monday morning at the Old Jail Building on Jefferson Square at about 8:30am, the Board of Zoning Adjustments will call the latest meeting concerning the JBS Swift Company to order. On the docket are several issues sparked initially by JBS Swift’s illegal construction project I reported on earlier this year. The story has been all over the news and it’s getting rather complicated, so I talked with Butchertown’s attorney Jon Salomon to figure out what’s really at stake.

The main issue at Monday’s BOZA meeting is the government mandated “revocation hearing” to determine if Swift’s Conditional Use Permit allowing the company to operate at its current site will be rescinded. The likelihood, however, that BOZA will shut down a company that employs around 1300 workers is very slim.

Also at stake is Swift’s ability to use a storage lot a few blocks from the main plant on Cabel Street. It currently leases the land from Metro Louisville. Butchertown residents had complained in the past that refrigerated diesel trucks were idling around the clock and suspected that they contained meat fresh from slaughter due to pungent odors, which would require another conditional use permit.

Storing Meat On Cabel Street

Butchertown and the City went back and forth over semantics for a while about the storage issue. It is legal to store “product” but not “meat.” That’s an important distinction as grocery stores and others store packaged meat “product” in trucks before it goes to market. Salomon released a letter on November 10 that indicates the neighborhood has documented workers spraying blood from the truck beds in the middle of the night which would indicate the stored materials were not a finished product.

While the storage issue may seem minor compared to the possibility of shutting the entire plant down, it does have long-term consequences for operating such a large industrial facility in the middle of the urban core of a major city. Butchertown Neighborhood Association president Andy Cornelius pointed out that the plant is currently landlocked and has nowhere to expand their facility, including storage.

Mostly located on about 10 acres between Story Avenue and Main/Mellwood (excluding adjacent parking), there is little room for the company to expand and a production ceiling of slaughtering 10,600 pigs per day was already imposed by BOZA in September. This land crunch is why the company has been using about 10 acres of city land for storage. Jon Salomon calls the arrangement a “sweetheart deal” for JBS Swift as it only pays around $4,000 per year for the property. JBS Swift representatives earlier denied rumors that the company was considering a large expansion for its Louisville facility.

JBS Swift Workers Get Involved

In preparation for Monday’s BOZA meeting, workers from the JBS Swift plant have been distributing defamatory fliers about Butchertown residents and attorney Jon Salomon. On Sunday, workers marched through the neighborhood to show support for their jobs and JBS Swift. Many fear for their jobs if Swift’s conditional use permit is revoked.

It has been clear from the beginning of this ordeal that Salomon and Butchertown support the preservation of the jobs at JBS Swift. Salomon says the fliers are especially painful to him as he has repeatedly represented the interests of union workers and families throughout his career. Clearly no one in his or her right mind would wish the loss of such lucrative jobs in Louisville; the issue is about land use and a changing, dynamic city. Think relocation not loss.

The Ville-Voice reported on the fliers Friday that allege Salomon and the neighborhood are recklessly trying to destroy Swift jobs by running the company out of Louisville. Included in the material are references that the “greedy” neighborhood is out to get the workers who don’t fit into the “economic agenda” of a privileged few. There’s a failure to distinguish between the neighborhood’s opposition to a large, incompatible use and the jobs associated with it.

However, the workers’ concerns shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  In light of the company’s decisions that created the current situation of uncertainty, it’s completely understandable the employees want to know what the future of their jobs may be.  Jon Salomon says JBS Swift is solely in charge of the future of these jobs, “If we want to get serious about [job] security, let’s get serious about compliance” with the conditional use permit. Monday’s revocation hearing that could potentially shutter the factory is the making of the company itself.

New JBS Swift Lawsuit Could Delay Kenton Place Park

As I reported in September, as a mitigating element for illegally beginning a $560,000 expansion, BOZA required JBS Swift to contribute $137,000 toward public improvements around the neighborhood. Butchertown’s Capital Projects Committee unanimously decided the money should be put toward the construction of a lost Olmsted park, Kenton Place, on East Market Street.

In August, the Bingham Fellows, the community action arm of Leadership Louisville, proposed restoring the median-park first built in 1892 as one way to make Louisville’s fastest growing urban neighborhood more attractive to young professionals. After meeting with the Bingham Fellows, Butchertown’s leaders decided funding the park was a better use than other ideas such as building lattice-work around the Swift plant.

JBS Swift has now filed a lawsuit in circuit court to remove the mitigating elements from the conditional use permit in a move that shows disrespect to the Butchertown neighborhood and the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Andy Cornelius is disappointed with Swift’s follow through on the BOZA decision but isn’t entirely surprised. The move does show the company’s attitude toward engaging the community.

Butchertown Files Separate Lawsuit

Because of the handling of the entire Swift situation, Jon Salomon says Butchertown has launched its own lawsuit in circuit court claiming the neighborhood was denied due process. The suit says that BOZA was not notified of Swift’s violations in a timely manner resulting in unnecessary delays in the revocation hearing. The neighborhood is also upset over what it perceives as BOZA’s inadequate evaluations of conditional use permit revisions.

Salomon explains that a conditional use permit exists to codify a special use in a location where it normally wouldn’t be permitted under existing zoning. The idea is that the company or use must meet certain conditions or the permit can be revoked. The original conditional use permit was issued decades ago when the area was very different than today. The Bourbon Stockyards were still operating and Downtown Louisville’s current growth wasn’t even on the radar.

Goal Still To Relocate Facility

Moving the JBS Swift plant out of the urban core of Louisville has been discussed for decades. Jon Salomon says he realizes you can’t just pick up the factory and move it somewhere else overnight, but he would like to see a timeline set for retiring the current facility. Many in Butchertown have been hearing lots of talk and no action from the City over the years with no sign of real progress.

Most believe it’s only a matter of time before the plant is finally relocated. Salomon attributes some of the growth in Butchertown and in the East Market Street corridor to the expectation that the slaughterhouse, and its associated smells, won’t be there forever.

Rumors abound as to possible sites around the region that are being considered for JBS Swift, but uncertainty prevails. Whatever happens at Monday’s BOZA meeting, it’s important to keep a clear mind and focus on the primary issue at stake: land use in a growing urban core. Louisville must understand that the workers and the neighborhood are not at odds, but also come to see that the plant doesn’t fit in its current location any longer and must one day find a new home in Louisville.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

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