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Opposition mounts to proposed Dairy Queen-turned-slaughterhouse on Walden

Opposition is mounting to a proposal to put a poultry slaughterhouse on the site of a former Dairy Queen on Walden Avenue in a residential Buffalo neighborhood.

Masaab Darwish wants to open a street-front restaurant and a slaughterhouse, mainly for fresh chicken and turkeys, at 822 Walden Ave., near Academy  Road. He is asking the Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance to allow him to convert a block building in the rear of the site into the slaughterhouse.

Darwish said it would be one of the few slaughterhouses in the area, and perhaps the only one in the entire city. It would operate under halal, the Muslim dietary laws that also guide how animals must be killed before the meat can be eaten.

Darwish, of Cheektowaga, stated in his application to the city that he has spoken to neighbors and gained support for the venture.

But neighbors interviewed Thursday expressed resistance to the idea.

"I think it's a horrible idea; everybody does," said Julia Ruffin, who lives on St. Mary's Road, which runs parallel to Academy. "There are no slaughterhouses in Buffalo. We are a neighborhood, and we don't want that in our neighborhood. I don't think anybody would."

The Academy Road Block Club, which represents residents on Academy and St. Mary's, has circulated a petition against the business. Residents met Wednesday night to discuss the matter at the George K. Arthur Community Center, 2056 Genesee St. According to those present, it was an overflow meeting.

Julia Ruffin walks her dogs Dash and Max near her home on St. Mary's Road in Buffalo Thursday, October 12, 2017. Ruffin lives near the property at 822 Walden Ave. where Masaab Darwish wants to open a poultry slaughterhouse and restaurant. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Darwish wants to put a restaurant into the building on the parcel closest to Walden, which once was home to a Dairy Queen, said Ulysses Williams, 57, who lives directly behind the parcel on Academy.

"A slaughterhouse is not needed here," said Williams, whose family has lived in the neighborhood since 2002.

He said other businesses -- a MetroPCS, Dairy Queen, an electronics repair shop -- all moved out of the site.

"The last one here was an auto repair shop and it lasted two months before it was gone," Williams said.

The neighborhood located a few blocks from the Cheektowaga border has seen better times, said most of the neighbors interviewed for this story. Many of the houses on Academy and St. Mary's have barred windows and doors.  "Beware of Dog" signs are common. A street sign near the beginning of Academy describes the street as part of a neighborhood watch program implemented by the block club.

"It was great neighborhood at one time, but now you have a lot of people walking through," said Williams. "There are more break-ins on St. Mary's. On both streets we look out for each other."

Darwish, 39, isn't new to the slaughterhouse business. The Israeli Arab has been in the United States for almost 14 years, first in New York City and then in Westchester County before coming to Buffalo five years ago. He is originally from Jerusalem, and his family has a farm in Israel with "a lot of animals." So he's familiar with slaughterhouse practices, he said.

Still, there's no guarantee that he will succeed with his goal, at least not in Buffalo. The city used to have an abundance of stockyards and slaughterhouses, particularly when the East Side was a bustling area, but they all closed years ago. Past efforts to open new ones met fierce resistance from neighborhood and animal-rights activists - including two proposals for halal slaughterhouses, on William Street eight years ago and on Broadway two years ago.

For customers who want to purchase fresh meat from a slaughterhouse, the nearest alternative right now is in Lackawanna, Darwish stated in his application to the zoning board of appeals.

"They are all very happy to have this type of business so close to home," he stated. "We are planning to have affordable fresh food."

The application will be considered by the ZBA on Oct. 18.

Members of the block club said they plan to be there.




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