Junkyard owners forced into zoning battle Businesses existed in '40s, they say WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

December 03, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Nobody wants a junkyard in his back yard.

Neither does Ellis Wise, but the 15-acre junkyard he and his uncle, George, operate on Hall Shop Road in Clarksville is what puts food on his family's table.

So it should be no surprise that Ellis Wise, who has been getting his junkyard permits from the county clerk's office for 21 years, got a little mad when county zoning authorities told him that his business didn't exist on county records.

"Everybody in this county knows we've been here for four or five decades, since back in the '40s," Mr. Wise said.

Because of an anonymous complaint to county zoning authorities in April, the Wises will have to appear before the county Planning Board and Board of Appeals and pay $3,500 to $5,000 for legal expenses.

"We can't absorb that -- we don't have the money," he said. "Business is slow. I have to borrow money to pay it."

What the Wises have to prove is that Ellis Wise's seven-acre junkyard and George Wise's eight-acre junkyard have been operating continuously since before 1948, when the county's first zoning law was adopted.

Since then, the property has been in a residential zoning district, where junkyards are prohibited even as special exceptions.

"I think it's fairly common knowledge that the junkyards have been operating in that location for quite a while," said William O'Brien, chief of zoning administration and enforcement.

But until a decision from the Board of Appeals confirms a non-conforming use for the property, it can't be officially permitted under county zoning regulations.

The complaint to Mr. O'Brien's office also alleged that parts of the junkyards had expanded beyond

their previous boundaries, which would not be allowed even if the non-conforming use was recognized by the county.

Both men say their businesses have not expanded. Ellis Wise said about four months ago, he removed the last of some junked vehicles from a neighboring property.

He added that the area had been used to store the vehicles for as long as he can remember.

To help plead their case, the

Wises have collected more than 200 signatures of neighbors attesting to the junkyard's existence since the 1940s.

They hope to get many of those residents out to testify before the Board of Appeals. The hearing is not likely to be scheduled before March, based on cases already on the board's calendar.

The two men have even enlisted the aid of County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Demo

crat who chairs the county Zoning Board.

"This is a situation where people have had this junkyard there for years. . . . There has to be some consideration for that," said Mr. Gray, who said he would be "very disappointed" if the Board of Appeals denies a petition confirming the non-conforming use.

Mr. Gray also said he would ask the county Office of Law if he can testify on behalf of the Wises at their Board of Appeals hearing.

Asked if the County Council should look at ways of softening the financial blow of hiring attorneys and paying fees to prove their businesses pre-date prohibitive zoning, Mr. Gray said "we really need to take a look at something like that."

He said the Zoning Board, which creates "instant non-conforming uses" with some of its zoning changes, needs to look at ways of preventing the resulting hardship to property owners.

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