Port Arthur moving inexorably toward killing slaughterhouse

Port Arthur City Council

April 5, the Port Arthur City Council tabled an agenda item that would prohibit land on Jade Avenue to be used for a “slaughterhouse or meat-processing plant” after Riceland Farms recently brought a proposal for such a facility before the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The potential odor the proposed halal meat-processing facility could produce gave community members pause and led the EDC to vote to restrict use of the land where the facility would have been built to prohibit building the “slaughterhouse” there.

Riceland Farms representative Hani Tohme first approached the EDC in January and later at a March 7 meeting to propose the purchase of 10 acres of land along Jade Avenue from the EDC and 30 more acres later. Tohme said the plant would create a minimum of 210 jobs that would employ locals first.

Approximately 80 members from neighborhoods surrounding the Jade Avenue business park where the meat-processing facility was to be located attended a special meeting called at the EDC Monday evening, March 28, mainly to express their concerns about the smell the facility might produce and to let the board know they do not want it near their neighborhoods.

In response, new restrictive covenants applying to the land were proposed, with language that read, “Specifically prohibited uses include slaughterhouses or meat processing plants and facilities ancillary to such business operations.”

The measure passed  at the EDC, with five in favor of changing the language, one against and one abstaining. But that vote was advisory, with the ultimate decision resting with the City Council, which did not adopt the new language applying to the land. They decided to hold off on the item’s approval subsequent to City Attorney Valecia R. Tizeno’s recommendation it be tabled until EDC attorney Guy Goodson provides answers to questions she has and until the exact language of the change to the restrictive covenants can be modified.

“I’ve done some research, because there were several questions that came out about it, and I don’t see any legal reason why the proposed restriction cannot be put in place,” Tizeno explained. “However, I do have a few questions that I’d like to have answered from the EDC. … I’d like to work more on the language.

“The reason that I’d like to work on the language is because if a deed restriction is deemed to be ambiguous then it will not be enforced.”

Tizeno said the term “ancillary facilities” would need to be better defined, or that part of the language removed from what would be added to the restrictive covenants.

“I basically have a recommendation to either limit the wording to what is exactly in the zoning ordinance or to have the second part of the restriction clarified so that it won’t be ambiguous,” said Tizeno.

The city attorney said there was something else to consider – an old law in the building codes that would force any type of slaughterhouse or meat-processing facility to attain a permit from the city – another hoop Riceland would need to jump through before buying the land and beginning construction.

“Additionally, we were informed that there is another provision in the building code where there is a permit process. So, nothing like a slaughterhouse or anything that is being proposed in these deed restrictions can even go forth, you cannot sell land or move forward with anything like that, until the permit process goes forth,” Tizeno explained.

Councilmember Willie Bae Lewis queried, “So, what you’re saying is, the process has not yet started?”

Tizeno answered, “No,” and said the new property on Jade Avenue has not yet been subdivided, and a plat map, a map of the subdivisions, has not been approved.

“So, that’s way down the road,” Lewis surmised, and asked if public hearings on the plat would be forthcoming prior to approval of the subdivisions.

“Yes,” said Tizeno.

Councilmember Stephen Mosely said he saw no “ambiguities” in the restrictive language proposed by the EDC.

“I don’t understand the ambiguities or what they are,” Mosely remarked. “What I think the taxpayers are here for today is to find out where the council stands on this issue.”

Tizeno still suggested the council table the item until she and Goodson cleared up the language to be added into the restrictive covenants pertaining to the property, and assured the council the land could not be sold at this time regardless of the vote.

“There is no way that the land can be sold at this time,” said Tizeno. “We’re very early in the game.

“If you table it, it would only be two weeks (before council votes). This isn’t a long process, but I’d like to get those questions answered.”

Councilmember Morris Albright III motioned to table the vote, with a second from Mayor Pro Tem Kaprina Richardson Frank. The council voted 7-2 in favor of tabling. Councilmember Raymond Scott Jr. and Mosely were opposed.

“It will come back in two weeks,” Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince promised.