MILTON – Town officials may consider setting noise standards for commercial scrap and recycling yards and possibly other measures as they again seek to mediate between an active recycling operation on Greenfield Avenue and unhappy residential neighbors.
The Town Board held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss whether new regulations are needed for all three metal recyclers in town – but in fact, the entire attention of the meeting was on Planit Waste, Recycling and Salvage, at the site that was formerly Ed Loya’s Auto Parts. In the early 1990s the Milton Oaks subdivision was built on previously vacant land around Loya’s.
Neighbors contend that Planit, which bought the property in 2015, has dramatically increased the level of industrial activity at the site, including the noisy banging and dropping of metal from a crane, causing ground vibrations. In addition to recycling and selling parts from used autos, the company does general scrap-metal recycling.
Planit owner Tony Dawson counters that Loya’s, founded in 1958, was a legal use before the area was zoned residential. Since such pre-existing uses can continue when a property changes ownership, he maintains that Planit’s activities are legal, and can continue under what is often called a “grandfather” clause. Neighbors say such a significant expansion of a pre-existing business isn’t or shouldn’t be grandfathered.
Town officials have been hearing the neighborhood complaints since at least 2018, but neighbors in recent months have intensified calls for the town to restrict or close down the business through an annual permit review process. “I think there’s a lot of frustration … that we went through these activities a couple of years ago, and nothing came of it,” said Michael Landis, one of the outspoken neighbors.
“An increase in volume of business does not disqualify you from being a prior non-conforming use,” Dawson countered.
Town leaders said they don’t yet have an opinion from the town attorney on whether the business is grandfathered. Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick asked for an opinion by the June 9 Town Board meeting. He also said the board will discuss whether new restrictions on noise from scrapyards are needed.
“We do and have taken these issues very seriously, and we will get to the bottom of this relatively soon,” Zlotnick told about 35 people attending the meeting at the Milton Community Center. With in-person attendance limited due to COVID restrictions, others – including The Gazette – attended via Zoom.
With both the neighbors and Dawson vehement in their positions, Zlotnick acknowledged finding solutions that make people happy will be difficult.
“No matter what solution we come up with, whether it is next week or next month, somebody is not going to be happy,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that if everyone is unhappy with a deal, it’s probably a pretty good deal.”
Town Board members Barbara Kerr and Ryan Isachesen were appointed to study the situation several months ago. On Tuesday, they revealed their recommendations, including that Planit install additional view-blocking fencing, build a noise-deflecting earth berm, conduct the noisest work in the area farthest from residents, and close business daily at 5 p.m., rather than continuing into the evenings. They also recommended the site undergo an environmental study.
“I understand their complaints,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot of noise and vibrations.”
Dawson pushed back against the recommendations, saying the kind of fencing being sought could cost as much as $160,000 to enclose his 24-acre site, and a berm might cost $500,000 to $750,000. He said his business is subject to state Department of Environmental Conservation inspections, but questioned the town’s ability to conduct an environmental study on his private property.
Kerr said it’s clear to her that the recommendations are unlikely to be adopted, but she still thinks the town should try to find a solution. “I hope we come to some resolution to it,” she said.
The town has an annual permit requirement for scrapyards, which could give the town some leverage, but Dawson said he is in compliance with all requirements of the permit.