Illegal dumping, drug use and drinking frequently occur on the dead-end portion of Central Avenue in Covington, behind Oconee Metal Recovery, but area residents and the owner of Oconee Metal disagree about how to solve the problem.
The Covington City Council unanimously approved the abandonment of the dead-end portion of Central Avenue Monday night at the request of Oconee Metal owner Ed Cloud, but 18 nearby residents sent a petition to the city Thursday in opposition.
Cloud owns property on both sides of Central Avenue, and once part of the street is abandoned he can fence it off, which, more importantly for Cloud, will prevent people breaking into his scrap yard and stealing metal.
"People are always going down there doping and doing other inappropriate activity, and then they jump the fence to steal metal. I want to put a gate up there and stop that foolishness," he said.
However, residents of Nelson Estates say the problems are caused by employees of Oconee Metal, who rent homes in the area.
"We've asked police to increase their visibility in the area. It all looks fine during the day, but once everybody supposedly shuts down and leaves for the day and it gets dark, a lot of his employees start walking around, whistling back and forth behind the house," said resident Ruth Hockenbery. "I'm not going to get out there; now they're tormenting animals."
Hockenbery said there were two loud explosions last week that have yet to be explained.
Cloud said there have been a couple of employees who have had issues, particularly one employee and his wife who would drink and argue, but Cloud said that couple was forced to move.
He said another lady rented a house to a man who lived without utilities and would steal stuff from the area. People also tried to break into some cars the other day, and Cloud said his son chased them off.
In fact, he said he and his son take care of the three widows who live on Central Avenue.
"We cut their grass and look after the old ladies. If they need something, we help. We even fix their cars," Cloud said.
According to a report from the Covington Police Department, there have been 14 incidents reported on Central Avenue and 53 incidents on Nelson Drive. There are several reports of suspicious activity and family fights, along with a few theft and burglary calls.
Scrap yard expansion?
Residents to also be concerned that the abandonment move is a land grab by Cloud who would then expand his business; Cloud disputed that claim.
"I've lived here for 40 years. This was a decent neighborhood until the junk yard moved in; he tried to rezone it and the neighborhood fought him," Hockenbery said. "The only reason he put up a sound barrier (of trees) and fence was the city forced him to. It's not like he's riding in on a white horse to solve the situation.
"Basically, we're being forced out. He made my brother's life unbearable. The dishes and everything vibrated when machines were in operation and that's when (Cloud) was forced to put up sound barrier and other things. My brother sold out and left."
Cloud said he wants to protect his business, and noted that if he did expand it would be in the opposite direction, not toward the neighborhood, which would have to be rezoned, an unlikely proposition.
Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said the city's zoning won't allow Cloud to expand because the current junk yard is only allowed in heavy industrial (M-2) zonings. Cloud's business is only allowed because it was grandfathered in; the property is supposed to be zoned for light industrial only according to the city's records.
Vinson said residents frequently complain of excess noise, but when the city goes out to monitor noise it's generally below the 75-decibel limit. In order to break the noise ordinance, noise has to be louder than 75 decibels for at least a full minute. Any excessively loud noise at Oconee Metal is very brief.
Vinson said Cloud told him he wants to buy property to create an even larger sound buffer. Many of the complaints started coming when the trees were cut down for a development that was never developed; the land off Sunset Drive is just a dirt field.
The city has no problem with the abandonment because the dead-end portion of Central Avenue is secluded area that serves no public use. City Attorney Ed Crudup said Monday that once the road section is abandoned, Cloud could negotiate to buy the property. Vinson will then work with Cloud to put up appropriate fencing or other barricades.
As for Hockenbery, she and Cloud agree on one possible solution - selling the remaining property to Cloud.
"If he wants to purchase land, purchase our little places and let us get out of here," she said, noting, however, that it might be too hard for her 88-year old mother.
"I'd pay them a fair value and be happy to buy it. I bought two houses from the Wilson and Hockenberys already," Cloud said. "I like to have places nearby for my employees so they can walk to work."
In the meantime, Cloud said his business will continue to be an asset for the community.
"We input a lot of money into the neighborhood. We are an asset to the community for people who don't have any money. We're basically a low-end bank."