Riner residents are saying “not in our backyard” to a proposed slaughterhouse. Wednesday night, the Montgomery County Planning Commission heard discussions about a change in setback requirements that would ease some restrictions for such a project.
But the plans for any such facility could be a little premature. According to Margaret Smith with New River Valley Meat Coalition, no decision has been made on a site in Riner or anywhere else in Montgomery County.
For over two years, the coalition has been seeking a location to harvest 15-20 cattle per day.
“We have been considering land on Riner Road and have met with two of three adjacent landowners to discuss our vision, and they seem quite receptive,” Smith said.
Under the county’s definition, a slaughterhouse is a place where livestock is slaughtered and may be cut, packaged and/or processed.
Smith said the coalition’s plan is to provide local farmers a plant within an hour’s drive to have their local grain-fed and grass-fed animals safely and humanely harvested.
“Currently no such plant exists, and there are only two United States Department of Agriculture inspected plants remaining of the five that existed over 20 years ago in southwest Virginia and both are 1-2 hours away for many farmers in the New River Valley,” she said.
The closest one is in Bristol.
Jennifer McClennon is local farmer who told the commission she and others are having to take animals a very long way for slaughter.
“We need something here. We need something closer,” she said.
The issue is the required setback for the slaughterhouse. Smith said the county would have to change this requirement for the project to proceed anywhere.
Planning Commission Chair Bryan Rice echoed that the group was discussing the setbacks that would affect any project like this.
“They would still have to go through the special use permit process before anything could proceed,” he said.
Smith petitioned the county’s board of supervisors to amend the setback from 400 feet of any lot line to 100 feet for structures used for slaughtering animals when it is served by public sewer. The minimum lot size for a slaughterhouse is five acres. In addition, the current ordinance requires the structure would have to be 400 feet from any dwelling on adjacent lots.
But again, Smith believes the current ordinance is restrictive and would make it hard for a slaughterhouse to open in Montgomery County. She hopes the county can find common ground for business owners and residents.
Smith said the coalition’s plant would be unique as they also see themselves as a neighborhood butcher that would provide fresh meat to consumers.
“We plan to include a kitchen for creating value-added products for local farmers who wish to increase their bottom line by offering such items as charcuterie (that is high-end deli meats), as well as a small retail area for farmers to sell their products on consignment,” she said.
Residents near the Riner site expressed concerns over noise, smell and the decrease in property values.
William Hale lives in Auburn Hills Villa at the Auburn Hills golf course.
“I feel a slaughterhouse would be detrimental to surrounding neighborhoods. There are more than 100 residents within two miles of this site,” he said.
Jim Viars agreed that a slaughterhouse would serve residents and might be good for the county, but not in this location.
“It is not compatible with development in this area of the county,” he said.
A petition with 50 names has been presented to the county’s board of supervisors, and Rodney Fultz hoped the planning commission would consider all of the concerns that came with the signatures.
Dorathea Rottkamp lives in Riner with her husband and is also against such a project in her backyard.
“I am devastated about the current request to modify several zoning policies to allow the construction of a slaughterhouse in the center of our residential community. This petition for alteration to current zoning laws, if approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board, will permit building on a parcel of land directly across Riner Road from Auburn Hills Golf Course and adjacent to both Montgomery County’s planned new Riner Fire Station and community recreation park, as well as the location of the CloverLea residential community. This parcel is also over the rise from the Carilion Hospital Center and within one mile from the newly constructed Auburn Schools,” she said.
“Citizens living and recreating, as well as our youth in schools, should not have to contend with the noxious odors and detrimental effects to their environment, both water and sewer, of a slaughter house in their midst.” She also said any additional truck traffic would be devastating to Route 8.
Again, Smith pointed to the fact the coalition has not entered into negotiations on the Riner property due to the number of challenges. “We have also looked at several sites in Pulaski so at this point, we don’t have a location,” she said.
After hearing concerns, planning commission recommended the county not change its current setbacks but left the door open to changes in the future.
Smith would not say what the coalition’s next step would be.