GOOCHLAND, Va. (WRIC) — At the rural northwestern edge of Goochland County, a proposal for a new slaughterhouse is dividing residents, with some hailing it as a needed economic boon and others calling it a threat to the groundwater they rely on.

At a meeting of the county planning commission on Nov. 3, William Hays Gottwald, the 28-year-old Goochland resident behind the project, said he sought a permit to the facility because he saw a real need in the community.

“After completion of graduate school I was approached by a local farmer who had convinced me that there was a big demand for regional and local slaughterhouses,” Gottwald, the scion of the dizzyingly wealthy Gottwald family, said. “He had a two-year wait on his cattle.”

The facility as proposed would be a modular building of no more than 10,000 square feet capable of “processing” — that is, slaughtering — up to 75 head of cattle each month.

The proposal will also require an amendment to the county’s land-use ordinance, which doesn’t currently allow meat-processing facilities in agricultural zones. That’s a change the planning commission was willing to endorse, swayed by Gottwald’s anecdotes about farmers forced to drive as far as North Carolina to have their livestock slaughtered.

The Nitty Gritty

But some nearby residents objected to the plan, saying that the facility would be a polluting nuisance — and one that could tank their property values.

“It looks like anywhere from a 10 to 20% devaluation,” Robin Anderson, who lives just .2 miles from the proposed site of the facility, said.

She told 8News the county assured her that their data shows businesses don’t depreciate home values, but Anderson said common sense tell her, “there’s a difference between a regular business and a slaughterhouse.”

A 2015 study showed that both highly-concentrated industrial farms and slaughterhouses can cause large depreciations in home values for at least a mile around the facilities. But the effect depends largely on how, exactly, the facility is built and operated, and varies greatly case by case.

Dana Draper, another local resident, told the commission the plant doesn’t really fit with the surrounding homes.

“Most of what’s around here isn’t really industry,” he said. “I realize there’s a need in Goochland for the farmers for this kind of processing, I just wonder if our area isn’t the best place for it.”

The site of the proposed facility, shown in yellow, is adjacent to an office park and development of homes. (From Goochland County GIS)

Draper said that though the area is zoned for agriculture, there are actually very few working farms left in the area. Instead, the neighborhood to the North is mostly made up of homes of all sizes on large acreages — homes that rely on well water.

“We’re all on wells,” Anderson said, adding that the potential for runoff to seep into the groundwater was concerning.

Elizabeth Norford, a local farmer, spoke up in favor of the slaughterhouse, backing up Gottwald’s economic argument.

“What he is proposing to you guys is a technologically advanced miracle for the processing community,” she said.

Anderson didn’t disagree that the facility was needed, but she called on the Goochland board of supervisors to help Gottwald find an alternate location — preferably one as remote as possible from people’s homes.

“Let them have their headquarters here,” she said, but keep the slaughter elsewhere, Or, even use a mobile system — promoted by the same company consulting on Gottwald’s project — to bring meat harvest right to the farms.