Salem scrap heads to court

SALEM – City Council voted Tuesday to legally force Downtown Metals & Recycling into compliance with city zoning code prohibiting scrap yard activities or cutting up items outside.

The resolution approved unanimously authorizes city Law Director Brooke Zellers to file an injunction in county Common Pleas Court against the business located on West Pershing Street which also owns the old Pittsburgh Foundry property on West Wilson.

The purpose will be to stop the business from operating in violation of city zoning code. According to Zellers, both locations are in violation of operating with a non-permitted use. The type of business being operated isn’t authorized in either of those locations, he said.

The filing of the injunction is something Councilman Clyde Brown has been pushing for since returning to city council two years ago. The business is located in the Second Ward, which is the ward he serves, and he said he promised the people who were concerned about the business that he would get something done.

“I stayed on this. I persisted,” he said after the meeting, adding it’s the only step they can take. “The city’s getting around to doing what should have been done two years ago.”

He thanked his fellow council members for supporting the resolution. According to Brown, it all comes down to interpretation of the ordinances. He pictures the ordinances as meaning “no scrap yards.” He questioned how anybody can have a scrap yard and not do everything outside. He said that’s why most scrap yards are out of town, not inside municipalities.

His problem from the start was that the zoning said the processing must be done in a wholly enclosed building and the business was not abiding by that rule. The city had sent a letter two years ago accusing Downtown Metals of violating the zoning code by cutting up items outside at the West Pershing Street property. The two sides talked several times and the business was considered in compliance after some changes were made to the operation, even though Brown alleged they were still violating the rules.

The West Wilson Street property was purchased by Bob Courtney, owner of Downtown Metals, last summer. City council approved amendments to prohibit auto wrecking, scrap or junk yard activity in M-1 Light Industrial Zone Districts or M-2 Heavy Industrial Zone Districts last fall and sent Courtney a letter telling him the West Wilson Street property couldn’t be used for those activities.

A letter was then sent to him in April telling him to stop all auto wrecking, scrap and junk yard activity at the site after photographic evidence showed that vehicles were being cut up on the property. Last month, the fire department responded to a call for heavy smoke in the area and found a car being cut apart had caught fire at the West Wilson Street site inside the building which was open at one end.

During the meeting, Mayor John Berlin commented “we’re not trying to close the business down. We’re trying to make them conform with the ordinances.”

Zellers confirmed that’s what the city is looking for, compliance with city ordinances. Berlin also questioned him about the business not using the West Wilson Street site for operations until after the new ordinances were passed to prohibit auto wrecking, junk yards or scrap yards. Zellers said it was his understanding that when the company received the letter about the new ordinances being passed, no operations had started on West Wilson Street.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey asked if it was normal procedure for council to take a vote on the seeking of an injunction. Zellers explained that he can file court action on his own in some instances, but in this particular instance for an injunction, council action was required.

He based the support for filing an action on information from not only Brown, but also evidence gathered by Planning & Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey and the city fire and police departments.