Junkyard owners win tentative exemption Panel recommends Wises stay open

June 11, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

An elderly Clarksville man and his nephew won a preliminary victory yesterday in their nine-month battle to keep open a longtime junkyard on Hall Shop Road.

Ellis Wise, 50, who operates the junkyard with his 80-year-old uncle, George Wise, heard the decision with painful relief.

"Why'd they have to put me through all this?" he said, sobbing as relatives guided him from the meeting room.

Bill O'Brien, chief of zoning for Howard County, would not reveal details about the complaint his office received in April 1992, when the legality of the junkyard operation was first questioned.

"In a case like this, you usually try to put [the operation] away from residential areas because of its nature," Mr. O'Brien said, referring to the potential traffic and noise created by dismantling cars.

The junkyard is in a rural area with few homes. The county informed the Wises last fall that to continue operations, they must prove that their 16-acre business, operated on adjoining lots, existed prior to 1948, when the county enforced its first zoning restrictions.

About 25 family members, friends and neighbors of the Wises stood before the county planning board to testify yesterday on their behalf.

"I can prove [the junkyard] was around even when I was born in '46," said Russell Wise, another of George Wise's nephews. "I was taken to the hospital to be born in a tow truck, and that truck is still right on that land."

After listening to the testimony, the Planning Board recommended that the junkyard be allowed to continue operating in the Clarksville area, despite current zoning restrictions that prohibit junkyards.

Final approval for the operation, which is enclosed by trees, will be decided at an Appeals Board meeting June 29.

Board member Joan Lancos apologized for the formality that required the burden of proof to rest with the Wise family.

"I feel bad that Mr. and Mrs. Wise had to go through this process," she said.

The Wises have incurred thousands of dollars in legal expenses in addition to the mental stress the case placed on family members, said Evelyn O. A. Darden, the lawyer representing George and Ellis Wise.

"All they could think about was their livelihood being jeopardized," she said.

During the hearing, Charles Cook, 85, of Cooksville, testified that he remembered hauling junked cars to Ellis Wise's lot in the early 1940s, about 30 years before Mr. Wise bought the lot from the previous owner.

George Wise said he and other blacks were forced to start up their own businesses in the 1940s because discrimination in the workplace prevented them from acquiring jobs. The board received signed affidavits saying Mr. Wise had established his business before 1942, when he was called to serve in the South Pacific during World War II.

The Planning Board said the recommendation would allow the land to continue to be used as a junkyard even if its ownership changes.

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