Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg Zoning Board scrambles plan for chicken business.

Julian Vasquez made his case for a live poultry operation at tonight’s meeting of the Harrisburg Zoning Hearing Board.

There’s an old saying not to count your chickens before they hatch.

That adage was especially apt on Monday night for a Camp Hill couple who tried unsuccessfully to get the Harrisburg Zoning Hearing Board to approve their plan to open a chicken-processing and retailing operation on Cameron Street.

Julian and Carmen Vasquez hoped to convince board members to grant them a special exception, which, they thought, would permit them to operate a live poultry business from a property at 436 S. Cameron St.

The board, however, told them that their application was not correct. A special exception, they said, would allow the couple to keep and process chickens–but not sell them.

“It seems to me that your application is to grant a retail butcher shop,” said board Solicitor James Cowden. “The City Council has determined that, within the industrial district, a retail shop isn’t permitted at all.”

Julian Vasquez told board members that he and his wife thought that a live poultry operation would be a good business, given the area’s rapidly growing Latino population. They planned to house as many as 200 birds on site, keeping them there for about a week before slaughtering them for sale.

Cowden informed the couple that they would need a variance, not a special exception, to operate a retail business in that zone. That’s a much higher burden to meet, requiring the applicant to demonstrate some type of “hardship” that the variance then would alleviate.

To help make his case before the board, Vasquez pointed to the wide variety of businesses along that stretch of Cameron Street, which already includes retailer Family Dollar.

Board Chairman Tom Leonard said that Vasquez had a fair point, but that the board had to follow the code as it’s currently written, which disallows new retail shops in the industrial zone. Thus, a zoning variance, not a special exception, was needed.

City Council President Wanda Williams attended the meeting, saying that some residents of South Allison Hill had complained to her about potential noise and smells from the establishment.

“I would ask you to go talk to the neighbors because I’ve heard that they’re concerned about a live poultry operation,” she said.

Vasquez said that they had held a meeting with neighbors at a Derry Street location, but that they would do so again. He also denied that noise and smells would be issues.

In the end, the board granted the couple a continuance, so that they could have time to decide if they wished to return to a future meeting to request a variance from the board.

The board granted a continuance for another project.

Across town, city developer and landlord David Peffley, Sr., asked the board for a variance so that he could convert an industrial building he purchased last year at 2327 N. 7th St. into a multi-family dwelling with 19 one-bedroom, low-income units.

Again, zoning board members balked, stating that the Peffley hadn’t proved any “hardship” that would lead the board to allow a new residential use in an industrial zone. In fact, the property’s current tenant, Bulldog Motors, is an industrial business, meaning, Leonard said, that Peffley was asking the board to favor a non-conforming use over a conforming one.

“We’re always concerned with certain imperatives,” Leonard said. “One thing we’re always concerned about is setting bad precedent.”

In the end, Peffley accepted the continuance, leaving the fate of his project uncertain.


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