Judge blocks permits for Sioux Falls butcher shop on the site of a planned pork processing plant

The court's decision likely delays any further progress on the custom butchery until after a citywide vote on Nov. 8.

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Wholestone Farms custom butcher shop on the site of a proposed pork processing plant in Northeast Sioux Falls taken in September, before final improvements were finished.
Patrick Lalley / Forum News Service

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A judge has blocked a series of permits issued for Wholestone Farms’ plans to build a pork processing plant on the city’s northeastern edge.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Sandra Hoglund Hanson on Tuesday, Oct. 10, likely pauses work on Wholestone’s custom butchery until after the Nov. 8 election, when Sioux Falls voters will decide whether to ban all future slaughterhouses within city limits.

“What happened here today is that the court upheld the importance of the initiative for the people of Sioux Falls,” said Brendan Johnson, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the group that put the issue on the ballot. “The people of Sioux Falls will now have the final say on the slaughterhouse.”

Former U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson is currently a Sioux Falls lawyer with the firm Robins Kaplan.

The two-hour hearing was punctuated by revelations that the city of Sioux Falls had, on Friday, issued an occupancy permit for Wholestone’s custom butcher shop that’s been under construction on the site near the Benson Road exit on Interstate 229. Though not the final step toward opening, the company contends the permit qualifies the butcher shop as a slaughterhouse, meaning the broader plans would not be covered should the ballot initiative pass in November.

It’s that definition of what is and isn’t a slaughterhouse that will likely be the center of ongoing legal actions surrounding the ballot initiative or Wholestone’s plans.


The judge made her initial ruling based on the information submitted and the oral arguments of the lawyers for both sides. However, Smart Growth must amend its initial complaint, which is against the city of Sioux Falls rather than Wholestone directly, because of the occupancy permit.

Both sides must submit arguments based on that amended complaint.

Wholestone’s lawyer, Steve Landon of Sioux Falls, said he still believes that Smart Growth’s injunction request could and should be dismissed, the case for which they will make in their filing.

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Sioux Falls lawyer Steve Landon.

“I don’t yet know what that order of the court is going to be,” Landon said after the hearing. “What the city gets ordered to do, and how or whether the city can do that, will be an interesting question.”

Which raises the prospect of further legal action by Wholestone.

The city issued the occupancy permit based upon an inspection, which the butcher shop passed.

“Wholestone may have to take legal action as to whether the city has authority to revoke something based upon the inspection,” said Landon. “There’s no allegation it didn’t pass inspection. It certainly qualifies for occupancy based on city standards.”

Later, Wholestone issued a statement saying that, so far, nothing has changed.


"Wholestone is not aware that any of our current permits were revoked as a consequence of today’s court hearing. Wholestone has not been required to stop any aspect of our business plan at this time. Wholestone understands the Judge is requiring additional information from the opposition as the next step," the statement said.

In the courtroom, Johnson said that the city and Wholestone had delayed the hearing originally scheduled for last week because of scheduling conflicts. He said he was informed of the occupancy permit at 4:56 p.m. on Friday, the last moment of court business before the three-day federal holiday.

In their lawsuit filed last month, Smart Growth contended that the city of Sioux Falls should stop issuing permits and revoke those that were approved after the ballot question was approved in July. Allowing progress to go forward, violates a state law that prohibits a government body from taking action after a law has been referred.

Much of the discussion on Tuesday, centered on whether there is a difference in that prohibition between referrals of laws passed by the government and ballot questions initiated through voter signatures.

Johnson argued that it does. To do otherwise would create public confusion, particularly in a period of early voting, he said. Many citizens have already voted based on one set of circumstances. Issuing permits changes that situation after people have already voted.

“The people of Sioux Falls will now have the final say on the slaughterhouse,” he said after the hearing. “I’m very happy for the people of Sioux Falls.”

Smart Growth is making contradictory arguments, said Landon. They say the butcher shop isn’t a slaughterhouse, so it doesn’t allow for expansion into a much larger processing plant. But if that’s true, then the existence of the butcher shop doesn’t affect the election one way or the other, he said.

“That’s our argument,” he said after the hearing. “Why do they get to have it both ways and say it’s not a slaughterhouse because they need to preserve that argument for later but somehow permitting still violates the city’s obligations under the referendum, which by definition shouldn’t apply here. But we lost that argument.”


Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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