The Buffalo lawmaker who represents the district where a Cheektowaga man wants to open up a halal slaughterhouse on Walden Avenue said Friday that he's firmly opposed to any such plan for that location, citing its proximity to a residential neighborhood.
Lovejoy Common Councilmember Richard Fontana said the proposed use by Masaab Darwish would be "obtrusive" and harmful to neighbors on surrounding streets, which is why there are no longer any slaughterhouses anywhere else in the city.
Fontana said the location at the corner of Walden and Academy Road is inappropriate for that kind of business, calling Academy and adjacent St. Mary's Road two of the "crown jewels" among streets in his district. And in particular, he noted the site at 822 Walden Ave. is within four feet of a woman's home.
He said he's not alone in his opposition. "The City Council is dead set against any type of use for that location as a slaughterhouse," Fontana said. "We won't allow any use that's not conducive to family living."
Common Council President Darius Pridgen said he hasn't counted votes on the matter and hasn't talked to any other council members, so he has "no opinion on it." But he said he would "listen very intently to what the elected councilperson for that area would want and the residents."
Darwish is seeking a use variance from the Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals to convert a block building on the back of the property into a poultry slaughterhouse while opening a restaurant in the former Dairy Queen on the street. He said it would be one of the few in the entire area, and would operate under halal, the Muslim dietary laws. It would provide an alternative for customers that now have to travel to Lackawanna for a halal butcher.
But Fontana said there are other options, adding that Restaurant Depot at 500 Duke Road, off Walden in Cheektowaga, also brings in halal meat.
Fontana contends the existing building is ill-suited for the proposed use, as it is a former garage and storage facility that lacks water or sewer capacity, and would have to be retrofitted.
"If this guy wants to open a slaughterhouse, he can try that in Cheektowaga, but he probably won't get very far there, either," Fontana said.
Darwish did not return a call for comment Friday. It's not clear if his proposal would require direct action by the Common Council, such as a special-use permit, but the ZBA and Planning boards typically defer to the recommendations of the councilmember whose district includes a property in question.
"I anticipate the other councilmembers would defer to him, because he's in the council district," said Delaware District Common Councilmember Joel Feroleto. "He knows the neighbors best."
Slaughterhouses and markets used to be much more common in Buffalo, especially on the East Side when the area was bustling. As with most cities, Fontana said, there are very few locations where it could be permitted today.
"If there's an industrial or commercial area where it could be done properly, yeah, it could happen. But not on Academy Road, especially at a former Dairy Queen," he said.
Fontana also criticized the property's owner, Mohammed Elwaseem, for supporting the idea. Elwaseem, owner of Delavan Discount Deli at 817 East Delavan Ave., bought the Walden property in February 2014 for $100,000 through City Minimax Inc.
Fontana said Elwaseem had initially proposed another convenience store, but the councilmember blocked that idea as well, so the property owner put in a cell phone store instead. That lasted only about a week, though. Last month, the Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a proposed used car lot for the site, also for being too "obtrusive" to neighbors, so "I can't imagine it being a slaughterhouse," Fontana said.
"If I won't let him sell pop, chips and tobacco, I'm certainly not going to let him open up a slaughterhouse," Fontana said. "He went from bad to worse. What he needs to do is come to the block club meeting and meet with people."
Elwaseem could not be reached for comment.