Zoning board delays decision on controversial permit for Swift plant in Butchertown

The Louisville Metro Board of Zoning Adjustment has delayed a decision on the Swift Pork Company’s request for a conditional use permit — a request that’s drawn criticism from Butchertown residents.

Swift Pork Co. is a subsidiary of meat-processing company JBS USA. | File photos

Swift Pork Co. is a subsidiary of meat-processing company JBS USA. | File photos

The pork production facility on Story Avenue has been using an 8.9-acre lot on nearby Cabel Street to stage large trailers that later are used to haul away refrigerated meat. The company doesn’t have a permit to use the property for that purpose and now is asking for a permit to allow for the “potentially hazardous or nuisance use.”

During a BOZA meeting Monday afternoon, the opposition argued that Swift should not be given the conditional use permit since the company already has been using the site to stage trailers without legal authorization.

Granting the permit could encourage other companies to use properties for unauthorized purposes without seeking zoning board approval first, said Jon Salomon, an attorney with Tachau Meek PLC who represented the opposition.

Meanwhile, Swift Pork Co. argued the zoning board should award a permit because studies commissioned by the company indicate the use is neither harmful nor a nuisance for the neighborhood.

One such study, performed by environmental sciences consulting firm Gradient Corp., states that diesel fumes emitted from trailers at the Cabel Street lot don’t violate air quality standards.

Another study by engineering and environmental consulting firm Skelly and Loy Inc. states the noise from the lot is well below acceptable levels. Swift also plans to install a sound wall along nearby Webster Street to mitigate any noise, a report from city zoning staff states.

An expert witness for the opposition, environmental engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham, called the studies into question.

She said she had firsthand knowledge of the noise Swift Pork Co. operations created — the sound of brakes, diesel engines humming and vehicles backing up — after visiting the Cabel Street lot numerous times.

Cunningham also called into question the fact that the emissions study involved computer-generated models based on information provided by Swift rather than actual air samples from the site.

As environmental engineers, she said, “we are supposed to look for ways to have jobs and public health.”

Cunningham proceeded to say the company could consider technologies such as hybrid vehicles to cut down on harmful emissions.

Earlier in the meeting, an attorney for Swift questioned whether Cunningham could testify and whether she was a qualified expert. The company representatives said they were not previously provided a résumé for Cunningham, who worked for more than 14 years for the Louisville-Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District, among other jobs. Ultimately, however, the board did allow her to speak.

Zoning board chair David Proffitt later said both parties failed to submit certain documents to the opposing side in a timely manner.

During the hearing, a Swift employee named Chris Sanders defended the company. The trailers were previously staged in parking lots on Story Avenue, he said, which forced Swift employees to find parking along the streets in Butchertown, taking spots from residents.

Since moving the trailers to Cabel Street, Sanders said, employees have been able to use parking lots near Swift, creating less of a parking burden. He added that the company’s jobs are important to the city.

Several nearby residents spoke out against the permit at Monday’s zoning board meeting, complaining about noise, dust coming off the lot, diesel fumes and trucks driving down residential roads, as well as trucks hitting cars.

Butchertown resident Andy Cornelius reported that a neighbor’s home shakes every time a truck comes down his street.

“It just really cuts down on your quality of life,” added Natasha Mays, a resident whose property abuts the site.

She did note that a representative with Swift Pork Co. gave out his cell phone number to residents and asked that they contact him if they had problems with trucks driving on roads they aren’t supposed to.

The trucks also are refrigerated and must be kept running 24/7 to ensure the meat inside remains cold. Swift will fill trailers with product and then leave them running at the staging lot until the semi-truck driver leaves; according to a few residents, sometimes this serves as a rest stop for drivers who are looking to sleep before hitting the road.

After hearing both sides, zoning board chair Proffitt suggest postponing a decision in order to give Swift Pork Co. representatives time to craft a response to questions raised by those opposed to the conditional use permit.

“Mr. Salomon and Mrs. Cunningham brought up good points,” Proffitt said.

He suggested Swift Pork Co. leaders and residents meet between now and the Oct. 19 meeting to see if they can agree on a resolution.