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Get outta town Yards battle a ‘not in my backyard’ mindset

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After decades, or in some instances a century, of operating at one location in a city or town, scrapyards are being told to pack up and move. Land that nobody wanted long ago now has become prime real estate.

Month after month we hear about scrapyards being told to move. Cities want the yards' land to build an office high-rise. Or scrap piles detract from a condo developer's plans for ritzy apartment-style living; he won't be able to sell two-bedroom units for $1-million-plus if they overlook scrap (although people look at scrap sculptures every day in dozens of cities and towns). Or maybe it's the city itself—instead of scrapyards and auto junkyards, city planners want "green space" in the form of tree-lined walking trails and bicycle paths. Others are looking to turn the sites into shopping centers or high-priced industrial parks.

This is not a new trend, but it seems like we are hearing more and more about new redevelopment projects in cities and towns. Who is to blame? Baltimore, I think. Charm City, as it is nicknamed, installed an aquarium along its waterfront years ago and it helped to revitalize the neighborhood. Now that's the blueprint for every troubled city.

Camden, N.J., has an aquarium and a big concert hall, and the city has more plans to renovate the land along its banks of the Delaware River. Maybe that's part of the reason Warrington, England-based European Metal Recycling Ltd. is anxious to pull up stakes and move its Philadelphia shredder to a small town downriver. Could a move by the company's big Camden-based export yard be next?

In Worcester, Mass., family owned industrial scrap metal dealer Leroy & Co. Inc. is in the way of a planned expansion of CSX Corp.'s freight yard. The Salerno family has been operating its business there for nearly 60 years. Because of the nature of the business, its biggest fear is that it won't be able to find a suitable place in Worcester to relocate. Tell the neighbors you want to build a scrapyard next door and they'll start yelling "not in my backyard."

Leroy & Co. isn't alone in its concerns. Other businesses with deep roots in the Massachusetts city are facing the prospect of being booted out of town. Some of the owners have said they feel betrayed by city and state officials who are pushing the expansion project. CSX executives have told local reporters they are ready to work with all the property owners to negotiate fair deals, but does a fair deal include dragging the scrap company into court with an eminent domain suit? City, state and CSX executives say the project isn't just about CSX; rather, it's about a comprehensive transportation plan intended to improve and enhance freight and commuter rail traffic statewide and bring about 400 jobs to the area. What about the jobs and livelihoods that Leroy & Co. has provided for decades?

In Portland, Maine, officials wanted two small scrapyards in the city's Bayside neighborhood for commercial redevelopment. The city bought a 53-acre site along the Presumpscot River to serve as the new location for New England Metal Recycling LLC and E. Perry Iron & Metal Co., as well as the city's public works department. New England Metal Recycling, a Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. feeder yard, agreed to the move, bought a 10-acre parcel and sold its two-acre scrapyard to the city. Alan Lerman, Perry Iron's owner, choose to remain at Bayside, earning him a firestorm of criticism from city officials. Instead of using eminent domain to kick him off his land, the city council enacted more-restrictive zoning and licensing laws for scrapyards, and the state's Supreme Court rejected Perry's challenge of those changes. And after all that anguish, Portland officials canceled their beloved $40-million redevelopment project after two of the proposed tenants—MaineHealth and the United Way of Greater Portland—dropped their plans for an eight-story office building and a 700-space parking garage. The city intends to set aside 22 acres as "green space," while the remaining 10 acres could serve as a new site for the city's public services garages, now located in Bayside but supposedly slated to move to the Presumpscot River site along with New England Metal Recycling. I guess trash trucks aren't an eyesore if they're owned by the city.

Fortunately, some businesses have been able to reason with city hall and persuade local officials that it might be better to leave them where they are. Such was the case in Dallas, where scrap processor Okon Metals Inc. and several other small businesses managed to avoid the city's redevelopment bulldozer. The city council agreed in October to allow Okon Metals and several other businesses to remain in the Cedars West area, an industrial district just south of downtown Dallas targeted for redevelopment into high-end shops and apartments as part of the Trinity River project. But Okon Metals and other businesses persuaded council members that they could make the area more interesting and more desirable. They plan to give the area a "funky feel;" the scrapyard, a lumber yard and others will raise the height of their fences, perhaps painted with murals, while a construction company will build a fence that uses doors and shutters instead of standard fencing materials. The businesses also will undertake a process called "xeriscaping," removing many of the invasive plants and replacing them with native plants that require less water and maintenance. They also will sponsor local colleges and art schools to design sculptures that will be erected in the area.

If only the folks at city hall elsewhere in the country would work with scrapyards and other "unwanted" businesses, they might be surprised by the solutions they could provide.


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