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Archive for Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Enforcement issue

Complaints at a local recycling business point out the need for the city to clean up its enforcement policy.

December 27, 2011

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There is a mess at 12th and Haskell in east Lawrence.

The property is the site of the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center, so a certain amount of mess is expected. Metal, scrapped cars, cardboard, paper, glass and all sorts of materials awaiting recycling are stored at the site. A good deal of the material is stored outside, just across the street from a long-established neighborhood.

But the mess at 12th and Haskell goes deeper than what can be seen by the naked eye. The situation also reveals problems with the city’s system of enforcing various codes aimed at making Lawrence a more livable community.

In February 2010, neighbors across the street from the recycling center filed a complaint with the city alleging excessive noise, litter, noxious fumes, and several other issues. More than 22 months later, the complaint still hasn’t been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

At a recent Lawrence City Commission meeting, residents of the adjacent neighborhood presented compelling video and audio evidence of how great a nuisance the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center had become. It portrayed a business that produces industrial noise that can be heard inside homes, burning activity that produces plumes of black smoke, smashed vehicles piled up so high that not even a privacy fence screens them from view, and several other sights and sounds that no one would want as a neighbor.

Parts of this case are complicated. The property is zoned for residential use, but there are legitimate questions about whether the recycling center should be allowed to operate under a grandfather clause in the city’s zoning code. However, there are parts of this case that seem relatively simple. Regulations about noise, improperly stored materials, open flames and other such issues would apply to the property regardless of the zoning.

Several city commissioners said they were surprised that the city’s codes enforcement staff allowed the property to reach its current condition.

Perhaps they shouldn’t have been. The city has had instances before where they’ve let noncompliant facilities exist for too long. The most prominent example is the former MagnaGro facility in eastern Lawrence. The city took the extraordinary step of disconnecting the business from city water and sewer service because of evidence that the company was illegally dumping toxic materials in the city’s sewer system. But then the city continued to allow the business to operate without city services for three years in violation of the city’s code. The city did not force the business to vacate the premises until a fatal industrial accident drew public attention to the site.

The problem here is not that the city’s staff is unwilling to enforce the code. The city has dedicated employees who take such matters seriously, but they need clear direction from city commissioners about what enforcement strategy is expected.

The city’s staff has taken the approach of trying to work with property owners and businesses accused of violating city codes. That approach has merit, but it certainly can lead to individuals taking advantage of the system and neighbors being forced to endure a bad situation for longer than necessary.

City commissioners should have a formal discussion about their expectations for code enforcement, and the timeliness of such enforcement. These matters are always going to be contentious and produce a certain amount of mess. But they should not be allowed to drag on for two years or longer.

Comments

smitty 2 years, 3 months ago

not so tough.....if it was in the middle of the neighborhood, OK...but it is on the edge and next to other industrial use.

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Number_1_Grandma 2 years, 3 months ago

This sounds more of the 'squeaky wheel gets greased' here. On one hand you have a business owner who has 'increased' his business more than the "conditional use permit" allows. With this town SCREAMING for being more business friendly from city hall towards business, it's not hard to see how this was allowed to go unchecked.

Now, Brook Creek Neighborhood is screaming for more enforcement from staff?! It's no wonder city staff doesn't know which way to turn here. This is nothing more than the 'squeaky wheel gets greased' and whomever screams the loudest to commissioners will likely get their way.

Brook Creek Neighborhood VS pro business.....tough call...

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

For decades, as an auto repair business, the property was maintained to an impeccable level. Since 12th Street Recycling arrived, the fence has sustained much damage and is falling into disrepair.

This lot never had mountains of material stacked until 12th Street Recycling arrived. There was not a ton of wrecker traffic or salvage yard traffic until 12th Street Recycling arrived.

What we have here is many code violations and lack of enforcement of the codes. Had 12th Street Recycling operated according to code(s), this entire matter would not be news. There is no logic in allowing an operation to remain open that is in violation of multiple codes and has been for some time.

Industrial use is not permitted by code in neighborhoods. Isn’t it odd that previous owners did not encounter the same concerns that 12th Street Recycling has brought on itself?

Once again, what we have here is many code violations and lack of enforcement of the codes. This placed the City Commission in quite a curious position. Speculation tells me the City Commission would have been well within their authority to issue a cease and desist order based on the extraordinary presentation by members of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association.

Then again it seems City Hall had enough criteria to order 12th Street Recycling to shut down for simply ignoring City Hall.

Does hiring a lawyer grant a violator the right to continue violating in spite of city codes?

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seriouscat 2 years, 3 months ago

This reminds me of the situation with the developers putting in astroturf instead of grass or landscaping even though it's against city code, and continued doing it after complaints and being told it's against code! "We'll just talk to our buddies in the city commission" is the response. Then they talk to their buddies, figure out a way to gloss it over somehow...and viola! Business as usual.

I would love to put a salvage yard surrounded by astroturf in West Lawrence.

Somehow I don't think it would be allowed though.

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1029 2 years, 3 months ago

I might use a recycling center sometimes when I'm not near a river, but the river is so close to this place I don't know why people even go there. It's so much easier to just let Eudora or Kansas City deal with our trash.

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gr 2 years, 3 months ago

"The situation also reveals problems with the city’s system of enforcing various codes aimed at making Lawrence a more livable community. "

Because, recycling does not a livable community make!

Lawrence is more concerned with looks than it is with global warming, the end of the world as we know it, airplanes falling out of the sky, the death of cute fuzzy animals, blah, blah, blah......

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ashmole 2 years, 3 months ago

Right on. The city code enforcement staff, in my experience, is pretty much useless - in the pocket of slumlords and other established interests, not terribly interested in preserving neighborhoods or making any trouble for people who will squawk to the Commission. You have to shout long and hard to get any attention in this city unless you have the right connections. And, unfortunately, most of the folks at 12th and Haskell don't move in those rarified circles.

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years, 3 months ago

Whoever wrote the Journal World editorial should be asking why the corner is zoned residential? That is the question? Would Mr. Simons build a house next to the City Sanitation Department?

It's not the neighbors, it's not BO, it's the Planning Department that needs to be taken to task and thus far the Journal World has not done so.

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windjammer 2 years, 3 months ago

You are very much right in your thinking. The neighbors were not upset when Bo opened his business for the permit he applied for. They are now upset for the illegal industrial salvage yard it has become. The neighbors have every right to expect the city to protect them from illegal business. A huge tract loader operating 100 feet from your front door should not be permitted even in your neighborhood. We would see how trivial the problem would be if it were within 100 feet of your home. It does not matter if the industrial yard is doing a service to the city. Put the service in place that is zoned industrial.

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dinoman 2 years, 3 months ago

grandfather clause well whatever... the citizens around that business are just upset because its a salvage yard... if it was any other business they would not be up set and that my friends is discrimination look around that area especially right across the street that is a business all be it it is owned by the city why is there no discussion about it closing down...yes the yard could be cleaned up but it is doing a service to the city and surrounding area wake up america.. get real and quit wasting taxpayers dollars on something as trivial as this...

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windjammer 2 years, 3 months ago

"Grandfather clause" This industrial site does not qualify in any part as a grandfather clause. The former Rays was operating as a non conforming use business. By the city codes after the business was closed it had six months to reapply for a non conforming business use. Rays was closed for several years thus it was then returned to a residental zone by the city. It is time for the city and city commission to step up and enforce the codes on the book. There is no way a illegal industrial business should be allowed to operate in any residential part of the city.

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