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Delayed not defeated

JACKSON – Slaughterhouses are still banned from agricultural-residential (AR) areas of Northampton County.

A vote by the Board of County Commissioners was inconclusive regarding the status of slaughterhouses in the county, keeping the existing zoning ordinance as is while a special committee studies the issue.

During a public hearing Monday afternoon, Titus Miller, who has a farm and a deer processing facility north of Seaboard on Big John’s Store Road, was seeking to amend the zoning ordinance allowing slaughterhouses only on land zoned Heavy Industrial (HI).

William Flynn, the county’s planning and zoning director, presented the case for keeping the zoning ordinance as it now is written because changing it to allow slaughterhouses on AR could result in a large-scale operation moving into the county with inadequate water and sewage treatment.

Miller, when constructing his deer processing plant, built it to handle the slaughtering of locally grown beef, pork and other animals raised by farmers.

As it currently stands, he can butcher all types of animals, but they must be killed off his property.

Miller has all the permits he needs locally and from the state to handle waste byproducts – hauling all waste to the Roanoke Rapids sanitary district.

Several local people spoke on Miller’s behalf to allow him to operate as a slaughterhouse.

Matt Glover, a neighboring farmer, said Miller “is an asset to the community and the county.”

Glover spoke about how nice the facility is and that operating it as a slaughterhouse would be clean, neat, and mechanized.

“It’s not a large slaughterhouse,” Glover said. “It’s clean, small, and enclosed.”

Another speaker, Todd Newsome of Branchville, VA, is a Southampton County farmer who raises beef.

Newsome said Miller’s facility is “a pristine, efficient operation” that would allow locals to know where their meat comes from and how it is raised.

“We can grow a great, healthy product right here,” Newsome said. “I fully support Mr. Miller. There is no waste, no smell and there is a need for this facility.”

David Iles of Thelma in Halifax County off Lake Gaston addressed the commissioners next.

Iles raises free-range pork and grass-fed beef. He said Miller’s facility is clean, professionally run and hauls animals for over 100 miles.

After a couple of other speakers supporting Miller’s proposal to change the zoning ordinance, Flynn acknowledged that Miller’s facility is clean, efficient and serves customers very well as a processing plant.

“Mr. Miller is a good man,” Flynn said, “but the next person may not be.”

Flynn also said that to make this an exception to the zoning ordinance would be illegal spot zoning.

Commissioner Joseph Barrett, who has visited the facility, praised it and praised Miller. He said, “Mr. Miller has a lot of community support. He wants to do things the right way.”

Barrett added, “He has so much community support. Is there any way we can let him do this?”

Flynn repeated that letting him turn the facility into a slaughterhouse would constitute illegal spot zoning.

“He knew when built it his land wasn’t zoned for it. He knew the zoning ordinance,” Flynn stressed.

When those supporting Miller objected to Flynn’s disapproval of the project, complaining that he was “given 30 minutes to our 3” and that the zoning could be changed to accommodate this project, Flynn said, “I’m not trying to harm anyone. It’s about the ordinance and upholding the integrity of the ordinance.”

Commissioner Robert Carter made a motion to reject the proposed ordinance. He and Virginia Spruill voted to reject it, but Barrett and Chester Deloatch voted against the motion.

Board Chairwoman Fannie Greene pointed out everybody in audience came to support Miller, so she broke the tie and joined Barrett and Deloatch to reject Carter’s motion.

A vote was not taken to accept the ordinance change and voting against rejection was not equivalent to acceptance.

Deloatch said, “Let Mr. Miller operate.”

Carter suggested they form a committee comprised of Flynn, the county manager, the county attorney, the health department director, and the economic development manager study the issue more fully.

Greene replied, “We’re where we started. Get the committee together and bring it back to us.”