At the end of August, an epic ten-hour hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BOZA) concluded that JBS Swift could continue operating in Butchertown after illegally beginning construction on a $560,000 expansion project. Several restrictions were applied to the slaughterhouse and an aesthetic budget imposed. What does all of this mean for the Butchertown neighborhood? I recently had a chance to talk with Butchertown Neighborhood Association president Andy Cornelius about the implications of the BOZA decision on the neighborhood.
Cornelius said the importance of the ruling is that BOZA actually made a stand on the issue and acknowledged that JBS Swift was in the wrong. While BOZA did not terminate Swift’s conditional use permit for the violations, they did put several restrictions on the business, limited its expansion of slaughtering capabilities, and required the company to have a hearing before BOZA for any future expansions.
This is good news for Butchertown, Cornelius said, as JBS Swift has gone unchecked by BOZA since its last conditional use permit hearing in the 1980s, 29 years ago. A substantial neighborhood audience weathered the long BOZA meeting to show their support of some kind of action.
An illegal construction project sparked this latest round of neighborhood vs. Swift tensions. JBS Swift failed to obtain a building permit for a hog-chute enclosure expected to reduce odors off Mellwood Avenue (pictured above). A $500 fine was earlier assessed to Swift to correct the permit problem. Swift also plans a $1.5 million expansion to its boiler building to replace a broken steam generator.
BOZA’s solution pleases the Butchertown neighborhood. The expansion project was 25 percent complete by the time it was halted. Instead of requiring Swift to tear down what was built, valued at $137,000, BOZA requested the slaughterhouse provide the same amount in aesthetic improvements as a mitigating element to the area around the plant and the neighborhood.
While Butchertown’s lawyer Jon Solomon had compared such a measure to “putting lipstick on a pig,” Cornelius believed the hardscape and landscape improvements in the area will go a long way. Swift must work in partnership with the neighborhood and city planning officials to determine the funds’ best uses and locations. Swift’s lawyer has mentioned the company may appeal any landscaping obligations, but has made no move to do so yet.
The real importance of the BOZA decision is found in the restrictions on Swift’s conditional use permit. A production ceiling has been set for the JBS Swift facility. BOZA imposed a 10,600 pigs per day slaughter rolling average over six days. That’s above the federal limit of just over 10,100 pigs per day, but Cornelius explained that the BOZA number allows for days of higher and lower production to be averaged out. The 10,600 number, though, effectively prevents a two-shift slaughter operation that would run around the clock and holds production to current levels.
Overall, Cornelius believed a precedent has been set. He said Swift probably won’t be in Butchertown forever, as the city continues its search for a suitable relocation spot in Jefferson County, but the BOZA decision definitely made headway for the neighborhood. Further, Cornelius said the ruling is a victory for all in Louisville who were skeptical at the efficacy of BOZA to take a stand on an important issue.
The controversy isn’t completely settled yet. An upcoming BOZA meeting will address another contentious point in the neighborhood-slaughterhouse relationship: storing meet in refrigerated trucks on a city owned parking lot. That issue seems to revolve around the semantic differences between “meat” and “product” under the law. We’ll have more info later.
- Butchertown Neighborhood Association (Official Site)
- More Broken Sidewalk coverage of Swift & Butchertown