Scrap yard owner says still open

SALEM – Downtown Metals & Recycling owner Bob Courtney said he wants customers to know he’s still open for business and ready to take their scrap.

The West Pershing Street facility located near the railroad tracks operates from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, accepting aluminum cans, sheet metal, heavy steel scrap, copper, brass, appliances, cardboard, paper and some heavy plastic.

What he described as “constant attacks” from the city have hurt his business, leading him to lay off a full-time employee this week. That leaves just him and his partner Ron Handy to keep the business going, which he intends to do even though he admits the thought of shutting down crosses his mind at times.

Courtney wanted to give his side of the ongoing battle between him and the city, including Councilman Clyde Brown, who questioned the operation after taking office in 2012 and has consistently claimed the company is violating the zoning code.

After Courtney purchased the old Pittsburgh Foundry site on West Wilson Street last summer, which he said was at the city’s urging, the city passed legislation in the fall against junk yards, scrap yards and auto wrecking activities. Once again, Brown claimed violations of the zoning code, at both locations, and pushed for the filing of an injunction. The city filed a request for injunctive relief on June 30, citing both properties as being in violation of city zoning code.

“We have no idea why or what’s going on,” Courtney said in an interview Thursday, saying that no one from the city has come to his property regarding the zoning or to see the operation or ask any questions. The fire department has been there before and he said he has cooperated with police during some criminal investigations regarding stolen scrap.

He said the city officials drive by and go up around the block or they park across the street. Then they send a letter telling him to cease and desist. He said he’s old school – if there’s a problem, you talk.

“All you have to do is call me. We’ve tried to accomplish what they want and it doesn’t seem to work,” he said.

His issue is that the property served as a scrap site before he purchased it. When he purchased the property in 2010, they operated for six months with permission from the zoning department and when they decided to put in a scale, the zoning department was told what they were planning to do.

Courtney said the business was open for a year and a half before they started getting complaints.

The two sides met at least twice after the first cease and desist letter. He put up a fence and he said the only thing they were told they could not do was cut scrap outside.

At the suggestion of the city, he said he purchased the Pittsburgh Foundry property on West Wilson Street, closed on the deal July 27, 2013 and started using the property the next day. The roof at one end of the main building was caved in, so they tore down about one-third of the building and scrapped the steel. It took about a week to tear down and once they were done, they started using the building for processing material received at the Pershing Street location.

In November 2013, he said he received a letter from the city about the new law going into effect regarding auto wrecking and scrap yards and that he wouldn’t be able to use the West Wilson Street property for that type of activity. He never heard from the city again until April when he received another cease and desist letter, this time for the West Wilson Street property owned under the name Courtney Enterprises. The ordinances were passed on Sept. 17, 2013 and took effect Oct. 17, 2013.

“We owned that property prior to the law going into effect,” he said. “We were told as long as we were in a building, we could do whatever we wanted to do.”

Two of the buildings on the West Wilson Street parcels are rented out to other companies, one an electrical company and one as a warehouse.

After receiving the cease and desist letter, a fire broke out when a car was being cut up, but Courtney said they were just trying to get everything out of there so they could meet the city’s demands. They started used a facility in the Hanoverton area to process some of their materials. Now he said they just place everything in roll-off containers and ship it elsewhere for processing, which means they can fit less material in a box than they used to be able to fit.

With all the press generated from Brown’s questions at council meetings, the cease and desist orders and the court action in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, Courtney said the business has decreased. Last year they were getting 45 to 50 customers per day. Now they get phone calls every time an article is in the newspaper to see if they’re still open. The business is half to one-third of what it was last year.

“We have tried to accommodate the city, everything they’ve requested,” he said.

Courtney, who lives in North Jackson, owns a bar in Girard that he’s in the process of selling. Anytime there’s been a problem, he’s gotten a call from the mayor or the police chief or someone from the city telling him what he needed to do to fix the problem. He said Planning & Zoning Officer Pat Morrissey had tried to work with him before.

“I would rather they give us a solution than shut us down,” Courtney said.

He said they’ve tried to work with the city and as a business, they’ve done everything they could and feel they’re not in violation of the zoning laws.

When asked about Brown, Courtney said he was told it’s nothing personal, but “it sure feels like it’s personal when you’re attacking my business, month by month, day by day.”

Brown has said he’s working for the people in his ward who have to live near the facility. According to Courtney, he’s seen people who live in that neighborhood come to his business to use it’s services.

He said his attorneys were filing a response to the city’s injunction. He also said he may be considering his own legal action.