November 18, 2009

Piggish behavior all around

You say you’ve heard the story about three little pigs?

Not this one.

Little Pig One, a neighborhood association, built pretty loft condos and fostered urban development in a place called Butchertown, where unpleasant smells and industrial traffic from the local slaughterhouse shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Little Pig Two, Food and Commercial Workers Local 227, over the past 10 years watched companies that were once its employer’s competition close up shop. It believes that because JBS Swift was in Butchertown before the neighborhood went residential, the company’s rights supercede those of all others — especially those of the neighborhood association.

And that brings us to JBS Swift, or Little Pig Three, the slaughterhouse company itself. Not only has Swift thumbed its snout at the law in a couple of instances, in order to shift blame it has purposely inflamed tensions between Pig One and Pig Two.

As for who’s squealing the loudest, it’s a tossup between the Butchertown Neighborhood Association, Swift employees and the curly-tailed, soon-to-be-bacon that moves through the pork plant on a daily basis.

On Monday, the Swift plant — and 1,300 jobs that come with it — was awaiting a decree from the Metro Board of Zoning Adjustment. After much consideration, the board voted to let Swift remain open, even though the company started work on an expansion last year without the necessary approvals.

The neighborhood association’s original contention was that because Swift did not obtain the proper building permits before it began the expansion, the city should pull its use permits altogether. Since then, the association has ever so benevolently offered what it feels is a more reasonable compromise — let’s give Swift three years to vamoose or else we’ll run it out. You see, in recent years, these residents have seen their property values surge. They figure, sans pig slaughter, appreciation will only continue.

Swift contends it doesn’t have the money to relocate to a more industrial area, and that workers might not be willing or able to commute to a different location in the city. And here’s a coincidence: On the day of the zoning hearing, Swift revealed it’s being courted by other cities, generating the aforementioned threat about the plant and jobs being history. How about that timing?

Meanwhile, union members, not realizing they’re being royally played by their employer, are holding candlelight marches and making statements like “this is a death penalty case” as they try to demonize the neighborhood association, accusing it of heartlessly wanting to send Louisvillians to the unemployment rolls.

This is where city leadership should have stepped in. When Swift decided it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and started expanding without the necessary permits, city officials should have levied harsh consequences and stopped construction immediately. Instead, BOZA fined the company $500 and gave it permission to continue building. BOZA, of soccer club Javanon fame, is infamous for letting serious infractions slide if it approves of the perpetrator.

No wonder homeowners were furious. As for Swift, like it or not, times have changed. The company has residential neighbors now, and they have a right to be consulted about an industrial expansion.

And because the neighbors saw Swift getting a pass, they hired an attorney, and decided they’d make the zoning infraction Swift’s Achilles’ hoof, an opportunity to rid themselves of their smelly neighbor.

Talk about huffing and puffing! If Louisville is to expand to become the city it can possibly be, growing pains like this are to be expected.

It would help if city leadership would set a good example. Officials with Mayor Jerry Abramson’s office have said they didn’t feel the need to enforce zoning laws or Swift’s violation penalties because they “don’t want to run good jobs out of Louisville.” (Because as long as you employ people, you can break the law?)

Reason needs to be exercised. Everybody’s goal should be harmonious, or at least civil, coexistence. Enforcing zoning laws would be an excellent start, as with rules come boundaries. But in the absence of such leadership (or a big bad wolf) maybe we can learn from New York City, home to the bloody, stinky, traffic-clogging Meatpacking District — which also happens to be one of the most sought-after, highest-priced residential districts in Manhattan.

Tagged: Francene |