Hunting Park residents fight off a junkyard
A mountain of scrap metal, car parts, industrial equipment, and (presumably) empty oil tanks. Illegally dumped trash ebbs out from the yard in every direction…
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Sheyla Lopez’s 14-year-old daughter has been having more asthma attacks. After being hospitalized last month, doctors told her that she won’t be able to play sports this year at school. None of this would have Lopez so angry were it not for the massive junkyard that sits behind her family’s house in Hunting Park.
But now it looks like the neighborhood is set to change. The junkyard at 532 W. Annsbury St., operating on an abandoned railroad right of way owned by Railroad Recovery, may have to pack up shop. At a zoning hearing two weeks ago, neighborhood activists presented some 225 pages of documents that testify to the not only the junkyard’s insidious effect on the neighborhood, but also it’s illegal standing.
“Just look down,” Lopez said from the Cayuga St. bridge overlooking the scene. “You can see the junk our community, our young kids, and our elderly are breathing.”
A mountain of scrap metal, car parts, industrial equipment, and (presumably) empty oil tanks. Illegally dumped trash ebbs out from the yard in every direction. When she walks home, Lopez covers her face with a cloth to block the rancid smell.
There’s oil in the water that floods their basements during heavy rains. Loaded trucks make huge deliveries in the middle of the night. For the last 15 years, the constant noise, air pollution, car crushing, illegal dumping, and the toxic smell have been a reality of the neighborhood.
It’s not just their homes, either. Railroad Recovery Inc. has maintained this operation within a stone’s throw of a foster care agency, a daycare, three schools, two houses of worship, and even Esperanza, a federally qualified health center.
The 532 W. Annsbury property also happens to be tax delinquent to the tune of $130,000, and has racked up over 100 violations issued by the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I).
Lopez and other neighbors got fed up. How can this business stake claim in a family neighborhood? Moreover, how can a children’s swingset and an excavator bulldozer operate within a few feet of each other?
Well, illegally. According to city zoning code, no junkyard can operate with 150 feet of a residential property. The labyrinthine code book also states that any business that uses industrial equipment for “cutting, shredding, compressing, or packaging” can not be located within 300 feet of a residential property.
That means you can’t use a car crusher within a football field of where people sleep at night, let alone ten feet from a playground, or just outside Lopez’s daughter’s bedroom window.
But the main reason for the May zoning hearing was to decide an appeal. Railroad Recovery’s junkyard parcels are zoned for “medium industrial work,” a code which requires special permissions to operate certain facilities — drug rehab centers, tattoo parlors, gun shops, and, yes, junk and salvage yards.
After submitting evidence at the zoning hearing — including oppositional letters from Esperanza Health Center, State Rep. Leslie Acosta, and testimonies from numerous neighborhood residents — the Zoning Board voted overwhelmingly against the junkyard.
— Scrap The Yard (@ScrapTheYard) May 21, 2015
The ruling is a sigh of relief, but there is still time for Railroad Recovery Inc. to make another appeal.
7th District Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez was contacted by anti-junkyard organizers, but did not provide them with a letter of opposition. We reached out to her office but have not yet received comment.
In the meantime, Hunting Park neighbors are putting together a plan to replace the junkyard with a park.