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ZAP rejects rezoning request for South Congress salvage yard

Thursday, March 22, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

A South Congress salvage yard with a history of trouble failed to gain support for a zoning change from the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday night.


The commission voted 5-1-1 against the rezoning recommendation, with Commissioner Cynthia Banks voting against and Commissioner Sandra Baldridge abstaining. The property’s owners are seeking a change to Light Industrial (LI) which the new business owners say will allow them to make much-needed changes to the property.


Some part of the property, located at 7600-7900 South Congress, has been a salvage yard since the 1960s. It is currently zoned DD, as it has been since it was annexed by the city in 1984, and has been operating as a legal nonconforming use.


The commission had concerns about such an intense land use on South Congress being made permanent. They were also concerned that on January 28, 2010 property owner Rob Ormond had 344 trees – including 13 protected trees – removed from the north portion of the site which borders Boggy Creek.  As mitigation, Ormond planted 341 caliper inches and posted $29,441 in fiscal surety to the city.


When asked by Baker to explain the rationale behind cutting down 300 trees in one afternoon, a long discussion about junkyard crime ensued.


Wood explained that the trees were cut down in order to make things more difficult for thieves.


“He didn’t do all of the protected trees, his employees did that while he was gone. But he authorized to pile up a berm to keep the people from coming up in the property and taking parts out,” said DeVon Wood, of Enabler Design Group, who was speaking on behalf of Ormond. “The city has neglected their duties to protect that man’s business. He did that to protect himself. He did wrong.”


Johnny Stevens, the on site manager of LKQ, explained that his company purchased the business in July 2011, and has signed a 25-year lease on the land.


“We are making improvements to the property. We’re cleaning it up. It’s not going to be a mom and pop operation; we’re a major corporation. We want to run this place, and run it right,” said Stevens. ‘We’re spending $1.2 million just in refurbishing the front end so it doesn’t look like a junkyard going down Congress… I’m doing all the things that I can with what I have, and am proposing to do more.”


Even without a zoning change, the business can continue to operate as a nonconforming use. However, the business will not be allowed to add any major improvements, such as new buildings.


When asked about cars parked on the critical root zone of trees that remain on the property, Wood explained that they have been there since 1984.


“Under amnesty, the state law allows continued use for what’s there before you take it in the city. Your new rules do not impact that usage,” said Wood. “That’s House Bill 245… You can’t encumber industry that’s existing before you come in.”


Stevens explained that his company had already removed some of the cars from that area, but it was unclear whether or not he intended to replace them with other cars at a later date.


John Stokes, a nearby resident, spoke against the change, saying that although things might be improved by new owners of the business, “auto salvage is a dangerous and dirty business.”  


None of this sat well with Commissioner Jason Meeker who, following a lengthy and winding discussion, moved for disapproval.


“To grant this zoning, after an egregious, over-the-top, unexplainable removal of trees – I would feel more comfortable if this applicant had come to this body after they had shown to be a good neighbor,” said Meeker. “It’s hard for me to take someone’s word that they are going to be a good neighbor when they’ve shown for decades that they haven’t been a good neighbor.”


Vice Chair Patricia Seeger explained that she was conflicted, saying that although the owner was a “terrible steward of the land,” she was reluctant to hold LKQ responsible for his actions. Seeger eventually voted against the rezoning.


Chair Betty Baker refuted this reasoning, saying, “We are not zoning LDQ or whomever. We are not zoning Capital City Salvage. We are zoning that dirt. Period.”


Baker also reminded the commission that their decision should be based on whether the industrial zoning was appropriate for the property, and appropriate for a main arterial into the city.


“We’re not closing their business. We’re not even slowing it down… Whenever they bought this business, it was incumbent upon them as purchasers to know the information, to know the facts, to know the problems. It wasn’t incumbent on me.”


City Council is scheduled to hear the case on April 26.

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