Wait over for junkyard owners as board lets them stay in business WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

July 08, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

A Clarksville family that runs two junkyards on Hall Shop Road breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after the county's appeals board voted to let them stay in business -- by acknowledging that they've been in business longer than the zoning panel.

The board voted 4-0 Tuesday night to grant George and Ellis Wise's petitions for confirmation of a nonconforming use. The decision, which will become official after board members sign a written decision within 30 days, officially recognizes that the two junkyards existed before zoning regulations made them illegal in 1948.

"It was justice, you know. It was the right decision," said Allen C. Wise, who operates one of the junkyards with his father, Ellis Wise.

Allen Wise said the decision would allow him to operate knowing the business had a future.

Over the nine months since the junkyards were hit with a zoning violation notice, "it was like working on a job and you don't know that you're going to have it the next day. It's a lot of stress relieved," he said.

At a hearing June 29, the Wises were able to counter several witnesses who testified against Ellis Wise's petition, including some of the junkyard's closest neighbors. "It was kind of surprising that we had so much support," Allen Wise said.

The Wises had to prove that Ellis' seven-acre junkyard and George's eight-acre tract were in existence before the land was zoned residential in 1948.

At last week's hearing, Mary Higgins, daughter of Lorenzo "Snapper" Matthews, testified that she lived on the junkyard property in 1947 "in the middle of a junkyard."

But Audrey Gaither, a member of the Inglehart family which still owns much of the property surrounding the junkyards, testified that the land now owned by Ellis Wise was not a junkyard when her family sold it in late 1948 -- after zoning was adopted by the county.

Based on the evidence presented, "it was determined that the uses had been in existence [before zoning], and had been continuous," said Evelyn Tanner, chairwoman of the Board of Appeals.

The zoning complaint that forced the Wises to seek the board's confirmation also alleged that the junkyards had expanded beyond their original boundaries and onto the Ingleharts' property.

Allen Wise said he thinks the problem can be resolved by putting up a fence between the two properties.

"I told [Ms. Gaither] at last week's meeting that she was free to start whenever she was ready," Allen Wise said.

Although the Wises appear to have won their battle to stay in business, it came at a steep cost, Allen Wise said.

Ellis and his uncle George had to pay about $5,000 in county filing fees and attorney's bills to get their petition through the process, he said.

But Allen Wise added that the ordeal involved "more than expenses."

The emotional stress proved too much for his father, whom he had to take to the hospital for treatment of high blood pressure and heat exhaustion, the younger Mr. Wise said.

Recovering yesterday at home, Ellis Wise "seemed pretty happy with the decision," his son said. "It kind of made him a little bit healthier."

The hardship caused by making longtime businesses prove they have been in business since county zoning made such uses illegal helped prompt changes in the way such cases are handled.

New fees that went into effect July 1 make it cheaper for property owners to come forward to get nonconforming uses confirmed, rather than wait for a zoning complaint to force the issue.

When the Wises filed their petitions, each had to pay a $650 fee. Now, property owners who have not been cited for a zoning violation may come forward and petition for only $250. If slapped with a zoning violation first, they must pay an additional $250 to appeal the violation.

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