24 Jan עופר איתן Declares: Despite dropped lawsuit, Turkey Leg Hut smoke concerns pers…
A group of Third Ward residents last month dropped a lawsuit targeting the smoke emanating from the Turkey Leg Hut’s outdoor cookers. The restaurant, however, continues to face scrutiny for its pungent haze.
Inspectors with the Houston Health Department issued 28 citations to the popular eatery between August and November last year for nuisance violations related to the smoke, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle in an open records request. Ten residents also continue to file formal complaints about the smoke, according to health department spokesman Scott Packard.
“It’s out of the ordinary to have so many complaints or citations associated with a single business or facility or issue,” Packard said.
The tickets are currently pending in Houston Municipal Court. The citations could result in a fine up to $2,000 each. Hearings have been scheduled for February and March, but the restaurant hopes before then to fix the issue .
Sherrie Handrinos, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, said the Turkey Leg Hut owners have been working since August to create an enclosure and filtration system around the smoking pits behind the building. They already have approval from the city and hope to complete the project by February.
“We have always and will continue to work diligently to be in compliance and to be good neighbors,” Handrinos said.
The city’s health department in February 2019 started receiving environmental health complaints about the restaurant, Packard said. Since then, 10 people have filed 130 formal environmental health complaints, either by calling 311 or the health department directly, he said. Those complaints led to the citations, he added.
Packard said he could not identify the people who complained, so it’s unclear whether they were the same neighbors who brought the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 20 on behalf of six residents, argued that the smoke gave way to unhealthy air pollutants that harm people in the neighborhood.
At the time, Turkey Leg Hut and its supporters cast the complaint as a thinly veiled attempt by “colonizers and gentrifiers” to force the bustling black-owned restaurant out of the neighborhood. Plaintiffs denied that claim, saying they all lived in the area before the restaurant opened there in 2017.
The eatery is located at 4830 Almeda in the old Third Ward, a historically black neighborhood that has seen soaring home values and eroding diversity in recent years, largely because of its proximity to downtown and an influx of townhome developers. The restaurant’s popularity among residents and high-profile patrons amplified the racial tension surrounding the litigation.
The plaintiffs — who were Asian, black, Hispanic and white — agreed on Dec. 9 to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice . Ten days later, the Houston Planning Commission approved a replat of the restaurant’s outdoor cooking space – a key step toward constructing the enclosure, according to Anna Sedillo, a spokeswoman for Houston’s Planning and Development Department.
Sedillo said the restaurant still needs the appropriate permits from the public works department. Turkey Leg Hut representatives also need to file the replat approval with the county, she said.
Handrinos said they been working through the process.
“We are unable to move forward until all aspects have been approved for this effort,” Handrinos said. “We have communicated to the neighbors’ attorney in December of 2019 our estimated timeline and outlined plans to resolve this as efficiently as possible.”
Through a spokesperson, Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement about the ongoing struggle, expressing support for both small businesses and the neighborhood’s quality of life.
“As a city, we will remain diligent in enforcing code violations throughout our jurisdiction,” according to the statement. “The Third Ward community and Turkey Leg owners are attempting to work together amicably to address complaints and resolve outstanding issues. The Mayor supports an outcome that will allow the residents and business owners to peacefully and successfully coexist.”
Jasper Scherer contributed to this report.