The owner of a specialty slaughterhouse in Philadelphia wants to open a new location in a 15,000-square-foot building in Westport, a plan that has prompted opposition from neighbors who say the use doesn't fit where the neighborhood is headed.
Mohamed Elkazaz filed an application with the city this month to open the slaughterhouse, with a shop to sell organic and halal meat at 2701 Manokin St.
Elkazaz said his business would fill a gap in the Baltimore market, where he already has customers who drive up to his Philadelphia butcher shop for fresh meat.
"We're expecting we're going to do good business down there," he said.
Elkazaz said they picked the building because it is zoned for heavy industrial uses, allowing what the city's code politely calls an "abattoir." The zoning petition seeks to add retail sales for individual and wholesale customers.
But Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association, said people are worried about locating a slaughterhouse at what she called the "gateway" to an area hoping to see improvement.
In recent years, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank purchased about 43 acres on the Westport waterfront, long eyed for redevelopment, stirring new investor interest. As a neighborhood located close to Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, the area also benefits from related neighborhood impact funds.
In a letter to city officials, Allen said the site is too close to homes, will attract pests, bring traffic and block any hope of redeveloping the area's main street.
Plus, she wrote, "It is a slaughterhouse! Even a farmer's home is several acres away from his own barns and other animal quarters."
The appeal to use the space for retail is scheduled to be heard at a meeting of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals Jan. 31. Under the city's new zoning code, to go into effect in June, the property is zoned for lighter uses.
Elkazaz said he sees the business as helping the area. He and partners plan to invest about $1 million and hire between 20 and 25 people for the operation, which could open in about a year, he said.
Elkazaz has been in the business since 1993, when he opened a slaughterhouse in New York. He expanded to Philadelphia in 2005, opening Al-Baraka Farm, which also goes by Philly Farm. There most of the sales come from poultry, with fewer than 10 cows slaughtered each week, he said. Animals would be kept indoors.
"I think people think a big thing is going to come into the area and there's going to be smell and all that — no," Elkazaz said. "We are not like a big processing plant."
Allen said since sending the letter, she has spoken to a partner of Elkazaz, who explained more about the business.
Allen said she wants to see commitments in writing about the size and operations of the business, and is willing to reintroduce the plan to neighbors. But, she said, she'd still like to see city officials help them find a more appropriate location elsewhere in the city.
"It's not that you're coming. It's where you're coming," she said. "We're on the brink of getting somewhere."