The Washington City Council Monday voted down a request to operate a recycling center after several months of hearings that drew the ire of residents neighboring the proposed site.
The council unanimously agreed to deny the special use permit requested by Jeff Gardner, owner of Franklin County Recycling and Salvage LLC, to operate the business on West Main Street.
Gardner currently operates the business at 6365 Bluff Road and purchased the former Sporlan Valve plant at 1699 W. Main St. in 2016, to the west of River Oaks subdivision where there are 47 homes with about 115 residents. To the south of the Main Street plant is Mount Carmel Estates where there is one home already built and another under construction, and 10 lots for sale. It is owned by Shawn Mayall, of S-K Contractors.
The former Sporlan property had been vacant for a number of years. It is zoned M-2 heavy industrial, but given the nature of the proposed use and the requirement for outdoor storage of equipment and materials, a special use permit is required to obtain occupancy for the use, including for outside storage.
During three public hearings dating back to January, residents in River Oaks have cited several concerns about the recycling center operating close to their homes.
Those concerns include a drop in property values, worry that salvaged vehicles would collect on the site and pile up taller than the proposed fence.
There also were comments that drainage from equipment salvaged at the facility would stream near and into the neighborhood that children may play in, a salvage yard could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes due to pooling water, as well as rodents.
Other residents noted that the noise generated at the site could be a nuisance, and that some residents would see much of the operation from their backyards and decks.
Mayall said he would not be able to sell homes in Mount Carmel Estates if the salvage yard opens at the site.
Gardner has insisted that his lot would be kept neat, and any noise created at the facility would not be a nuisance to neighbors.
He also has addressed retention pond concerns, and he has insisted that all vehicles to be salvaged are drained before they would be on the lot.
Gardner added that some of the largest industries in Washington use his business, as well as the city.
The facility where he is operating now has about 12,000 square feet and the Sporlan building is approximately 100,000 square feet.
Allowed in Code?
Prior to the 8-0 vote, Councilwoman Susan Watermann questioned if the city code would even permit “abandoned” vehicles as part of the special use.
“One thing that particularly struck me,” she said, “in the special use permit, abandoned vehicles were not allowed. I dug into that a little more, and what is an abandoned vehicle?”
“If it’s being used as scrap is it truly abandoned? By our code it appears that it is,” Watermann continued.
According to the city code cited by Watermann, any parts of derelict cars or trucks are defined as abandoned.
“Therefore they wouldn’t even be allowed to be stored outside of the building — period — even if the special use permit was allowed,” Watermann added.
She then asked City Counselor Mark Piontek if her interpretation of the code was accurate.
“That is correct,” Piontek stated after a quick review of the code.
Watermann further stated that even if the council approved the permit, Gardner could not operate his business with any vehicles stored outside.
“Unless he was willing to have everything actually inside the building, in its entirety, and I don’t know if that’s possible,” she commented
Watermann said she delved into the city codes to seek clear answers following several contentious meetings focused on the request.
“I am sensitive to both sides of this — I am sensitive to the neighbors, very much so,” she said. “I am also sensitive to the business owner — I don’t want to discourage business in our community because I think that’s important.
“But as part of my due diligence, I felt that it was necessary to ask those questions and go through our code very thoroughly to decide what was and was not allowed.”
City Administrator Darren Lamb told The Missourian that he would be working with Piontek to ensure the code Watermann referred to, and the city’s zoning codes, are consistent.
He added that the zoning codes were overhauled in 2017 and codes written earlier should align with the updated rules.
Under the special use permit request process the city relied heavily on the zoning code because that directly focuses on what can and can’t be done on property, Lamb added.
Depending on how the codes cited by Watermann are interpreted, then Gardner’s current business and Brinker Recycling, along with some others, may not be permitted to operate as they do now due to the outside storage of vehicles.
Most of the vehicles at the Brinker business are on rented land, and belong to a used car dealer, The Missourian was told.