Recycling operation riles Sun Lakes neighbors - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Recycling operation riles Sun Lakes neighbors

August 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Recycling operation riles Sun Lakes neighbors

By Cecilia Chan, Guest Writer


When Phillip Graham moved into the Santan Vista neighborhood three years ago come September, he thought the property within 300 feet of his backyard fence was a storage yard.

“There were probably 20 to 25 old, vintage golf carts and I thought it was a closed-up repair shop,” he said. “There was no business up and running back then.”

But over time, mounds of scrap metal built up on the .63-acre site at the northeast corner of Hunt Highway and Arizona Avenue and the noise steadily increased, according to Graham.

“They were stocking a lot more material, ladders, shopping carts and scrap metal,” he said. “Made it look like a junk yard.”

Maricopa County in June 2017 cited the property owner for operating a recycling collection center – considered a nonconforming use of the site that sits between the Sun Lakes and Santan Vista neighborhoods.

To bring the operation into compliance, county planning staff suggested a special-use permit – good for 10 years with stipulations. And on July 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission agreed, voting 6-0 in favor of approving the permit – much to the chagrin of nearby residents like Graham.

The case now goes to the county Board of Supervisors for the final say.

The business collects, sorts and recycles daily and sees, on average, 10 to 12 customers a day, according to planner Farhad Tavassoli.

A carport on site is used for shade and operations such as customer check-in, weighing of recyclables and cashing, and the balance of the property is used for recycling, he said.

The business was compatible with the neighboring commercial uses, he added, pointing to a medical marijuana facility to the south.

“Staff believes the special-use permit is reasonable and necessary to close the violation case,” Tavassoli said.

He indicated the county received six letters from nearby residents who were mostly concerned about traffic and noise.

Applicant Paul Almond of Architectural Design Group said owner Annabelle Cooper leased the property 18 months ago to a father and son who operate the recycling center.

It wasn’t until Almond went to the county requesting a permit to bring electricity to the property that he learned the business was a nonconforming use. He emphasized the violation came from that and not complaint-driven by neighbors.

The landowner has consented to a permit allowing for a change in the use of the property, according to staff.

“The letters from neighbors, most of them are about noise along Arizona Avenue,” Almond said. “We can appreciate that but it is a state highway.”

As the surrounding area grows, so will the traffic on the roadway, he said.

He said 10 to 15 neighborhood cars a day show up at the center to drop off bags of aluminum cans and a couple of times a week a truck comes and hauls away the cans.

“If we were like a Circle K or a retail store, we would generate a lot more traffic than we do,” he said.

Vice Chairman Nathan Anderson, whose District 1 takes in the area, wanted more information about the type of noise generated at the site.

Most of the items brought in are aluminum cans, which are sorted by hand and placed in bags or bins for truck pick-up by an electric forklift, Almond said.

“There is no crushing equipment, you won’t see any big pieces of equipment,” he said. “It’s a two-man operation, they do everything by hand.”

He said during the 18 months of operation he was not aware of any complaints from neighbors.

The answer eased Anderson’s concerns.

“Seems like to me the noise impacts are very minimal,” he said. “The traffic generated on site itself is very minimal so I’m not uncomfortable with the applicant’s special-use permit.”

District 1 Commissioner Jimmy Lindblom wanted to address a resident’s complaint that she could see piles of recyclables from her home.

Tavassoli said that particular residence was separated from the site by a canal, which is bermed on either side so there was a bit of screening.

District 2 Commissioner Greg Arnett said his only concern was the operation could later expand and bring in crushing equipment.

Chairwoman Jennifer Ruby said she also thought about that but given the size of the site, it was unlikely there would be room for much equipment.

Anderson then asked if the permit would allow the business to expand. Tavassoli said the permit only approves what is currently there.

There would be no manufacturing or processing of recyclable materials, nor any heavy machinery to generate noise, according to staff.

“This is a fairly small site for an industrial-type operation,” Deputy Director Darren Gerard said. “They are very limited on what they can do on the site.”

Santan Vista resident Christine Huebsch, who complained to the county about seeing piles of recyclables from her yard, was disappointed with the vote.

“That stinks,” she said. “They don’t have to live here and listen to the noise of cans clink, clink at 7 in the morning. They have big trucks that come in to unload and load these materials. When the trucks come in I can hear it.”

On top of the noise, she added, “they pile up the containers of recyclable materials to the point that I can see them above my fence. The other day some guy was climbing on top of it, making a bunch of racket.”

But, her main complaint is that the recycling center is affecting her property value, she said.

“It looks like a junk yard,” she said. “It’s fenced around three sides but it’s not a wooden fence but a chain-link fence.”

Sun Lakes resident Carl Ryken, who also wrote an objection letter, wasn’t surprised by the commission’s recommendation.

He said his house is one of the closest to Arizona Avenue and each year the truck traffic on it gets worse. He said the area doesn’t need the recycling center to add to it.

He said there is also noise from the recycling center itself.

“At 5 a.m. I can hear them dumping cans into the dumpster,” he said. “I maybe hear it once or twice a week. I’m already awake but I don’t like it. But there is nothing I can do about it.”

Kimberly Carrillo/Staff Photographer