STRAWBERRY PLAINS, Tenn. — Jefferson County Commissioners voted against rezoning a 7-acre farm into a slaughterhouse. The vote was tight with nine in agreement, and nine in opposition. Two Commissioners abstained.
The proposal would have rezoned the Agricultural-2 farm into an Industrial-2 slaughterhouse.
The property is located in between Bruner and Eslinger Roads off of Highway 11E. It is surrounded by family homes.
The Commissioners meeting lasted for nearly two hours, as over 30 people took to the podium to share their thoughts on the project.
Of the 30 people that spoke, only five were in favor of the slaughterhouse.
"Our community was intended to be an agricultural and a residential community… and you're asking to put an I-2 zoning smack dab in the middle of this place, and these people's homes," one concerned community member said at the meeting.
Most community members were in agreement that there is a need in the community for a slaughterhouse.
"We are not opposed to industry and business in the county. We need tax revenue," Debbie Berry said, "We're just opposed to the site."
The Berry family resides on Bruner road. They have three houses next to one another, where they have called home for the past 80 years.
"We have nieces and nephews that that ride and play outside," Berry said, "It just breaks my heart for the community that this is happening again."
Berry's front yard was 200 feet from the proposed slaughterhouse. Her family looks out on grassland with rolling hills. They value the quietness of their home and the peace it has brought their family for generations.
"We're fully invested in this community and this property. It'll be theirs one day," Berry said, referring to her nieces and nephews.
Berry's niece also wrote a letter to the Jefferson County Commission. It was read last week in front of the board.
The letter said, I really don't want a slaughterhouse right next to my family's houses. Please say no to the slaughterhouse.
"That's from the perspective of a 9-year-old," Berry said.
At the County Commissioners meeting, people expressed their concerns. The major concern was that it would be the first I-2 site in all of Jefferson County.
Community members worried it open up possibilities for other I-2 sites to be established in Strawberry Plains.
"It's going to open a pandora's box that will haunt you for the rest of your lives," one community member said in the meeting, "If you can put in a smelting plant, and you can bury toxic waste… it's more than a slaughterhouse people."
The five people who spoke in favor of the slaughterhouse also presented compelling evidence for the necessity of this type of establishment in Jefferson County.
One community member, who has cattle, expressed the need for a butcher closer to home.
"I have been driving every week, one to two times a week… to the five different butcher shops that are closest to me," she said, "I have to book one to two years out to get an appointment."
The major investor of the property was a company called Local Meats LLC.
The owners of Local Meats said they wanted to build a clean facility to fill the demand for a local meat harvesting site they saw during the pandemic. They said the fully enclosed facility would not keep animals on-site overnight.
"We want a clean facility because if you are running a harvest facility and the storefront there at the same time, the lady in the high heels who comes in to buy steaks for her husband doesn't have a smell when she comes in or leaves," Local Meats LLC President Mark Pettit said.
Pettit also brought a mock-up drawing of the infrastructure he was planning to build on the site.
Pettit said the plan for the project came from a place of need in the community, and how hard it is to find a local place to get an animal slaughtered.
"We are a group of farmers, we came together, we are not rich, we don't have deep pockets," Pettit said on the podium, "We do have ideas and we were trying to help our fellow farmers and community members."
Pettit was honest in saying it was his first time leading a project of this magnitude.
"We will be happy to talk with you when we get our plans together.. but as you can tell we're new at this.. we're not businessmen we're farmers," Pettit said.
However, his comments did not change the community's mind.
"These are homes, these are families, this is not a place for a slaughterhouse," said Melinda Earnest.
Earnest backs up to the property that was being considered for the project.
"It will be in my backyard," Earnest said, "I can throw a rock and hit it if they build it there."
"Think of the noise, the smell alone, and the traffic on our roads," Earnest said.
They worried their home value would decrease being across the street from a meat-processing plant.
"None of us are going to be able to get anything out of our homes," Earnest said.
Down the road, Ginger Evans owns "Yard Sales and More," a small antique shop off of Highway 11E.
She thought the idea of expanding the industry was a smart financial move for the county and the surrounding residents.
"There's not a lot of jobs in this area," Evans said, "So, we need jobs here instead of traveling out of the area to go to for jobs."
However, Evans was frustrated that the proposal was kept so silent. She did not attend the initial Jefferson County Commission meeting.
"There was no notice given to us about a public meeting, being business owners," Evans said, "If it is such a big thing, don't you think business owners nearby have the right to know about it?"
More than 700 community members created and signed a petition to keep the slaughterhouse out of their neighborhood.
"We are fighting it with everything we have," Earnest said.
Community members also called on Jefferson County Commissioners to stop the project.
Rob Blevins is the county commissioner for the 6th district, where the slaughterhouse is being proposed.
"The citizens have overwhelmingly come out in my district opposing it," Blevins said.
Blevins voted against the rezoning at the Monday night County Commission meeting.
"We understand the need for this," Blevins said," We're just asking that they build it in a different location than someone's backyard."
"It's the wrong place," she said.
While the community's battle to end the rezoning was successful in the Monday night County Commissioners meeting, they know the idea of expanding the industry and economy in Jefferson County will eventually come to fruition.
They encourage it.
Just not in their backyard.