Council approves some businesses’ requests, but denies junkyard permit

Council member Chris Jones, right, talks about city issues with City Manager Eric Campbell and Mayor Deanna Reed in a meeting in 2019. (File Photo)

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

Several local businesses, including a food truck and a townhome developer, got green lights for special use permits or rezoning, but the city council on Tuesday also denied a permit request for a junkyard.

Adam Fletcher, director of community development, told the council that the business operating at 1207 North Liberty Street is out of compliance with the city’s zoning regulations by storing and dismantling inoperable vehicles outside. The property is zoned for industrial uses, which only allows outdoor junkyard operations with a special use permit. 

The business owner, Ahmed Abdullah, said during Tuesday’s public hearing that the site’s primary use is not as a junkyard. He wrote in his application that he buys “damaged cars from salvaged auctions to repair them for reselling” and sometimes needs an extended period of time to fix and sell the vehicles.

The planning commission had unanimously recommended denying the permit, as did the city staff. The city is in a legal battle with Abdullah over the same issue with the business’ operations. The legal proceedings were placed on hold to give Abdullah the chance to get a special use permit. 

Council member Chris Jones expressed concerns about denying the permit.

“If we’re saying no to the junkyard for aesthetic purposes,” Jones said, at some point the council should have “a robust conversation about whether we want to go down that road.”

Ultimately, though, the council voted 4-0 to deny the permit. Vice-mayor Sal Romero abstained from voting, saying the city had first put the business on notice for noncompliance in 2019, yet still allowed it to grow for more than two years before the issue came before the council. 

The council unanimously approved the rest of the night’s zoning-related applications:

  • A special use permit for the food truck Tacos el Zacatecano to operate at 256 Charles Street, on the grounds of T&E Meats; 
  • A special use permit for a short-term rental at 150 Crescent Drive, to be limited to three accomodation spaces and up to six guests; and
  • Rezoning, special use permit, and preliminary subdivision applications for a 16-unit townhome development planned for 116 Pleasant Hill Road. 

The council also unanimously gave the go-ahead for a number of public works projects. 

One of those was the next phase of a neighborhood traffic calming plan for the Sunset Heights neighborhood that sits northwest of High Street and between Westover and Hillandale parks. Tom Hartman, director of public works, told the council the next phase of the plan includes installing speed cushions, speed bumps, raised intersections and mini-roundabouts, which should be completed by this fall. 

The council also authorized Hartman to pursue a grant to build a section of the Northend Greenway between Jefferson Street and the Brookside subdivision. 

And the council authorized City Manager Eric Campbell to sign an interim agreement with Momentum Earthworks for a Blacks Run stream restoration project. The Harrisonburg-based excavating contractor will design a stream restoration plan for the portion of Blacks Run that passes through the public works complex down to Ramblewood fields. 

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