Norfolk wants to stop a proposed recycling center, but it might be too late

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There’s a fight over a proposed recycling center in Norfolk.

Despite the project being approved, city officials now say they don’t want the plant as pitched by former Portsmouth city councilman Danny Meeks. The city says it’s a safety hazard, and a quality of life issue, too.

For the first time, businessman Danny Meeks is speaking up how there really is no debate about it.

This is a “not in my backyard” story. 

Neighbors care about smells from trash and solid waste, they care about truck traffic.

The man who wants to build it says, as part of the permit process, he must not have smells coming from the building or leave trash overnight on the concrete slab floor.

As for the traffic, Meeks says truck traffic through the St. Julian Avenue area of the city has been there for decades. 

Last Monday, Norfolk City Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves spoke out against putting a materials recovery facility (MRF) in a building on St. Julian Avenue.

“This type of infringement would never be considered in a more affluent neighborhood in other parts of town,” Williams Graves said. 

Now, Meeks is fighting back, saying Norfolk has known all along what he wants to do. 

“We followed all the requirements of the city.  We applied for all the proper permits. This is zoned by right (which means it is accepted without any special review),” Meeks told 10 On Your Side.

Meeks says the city has known what he wants to do dating back to August 2017, when city zoning agreed Meeks’ plan was properly zoned by right.

The city gave him a business license, and on February 13, approved a variance (the Department of Environmental Quality sent Meeks a letter confirming) to allow him to operate closer to homes than what the standard set back is.

He also stated to the city and the DEQ under the types of waste he’ll have on site: “Municipal solid waste.” 

That includes residential smelly garbage, which neighbors are opposed to.

“We told everyone from the beginning our plan was to recycle solid wastes from day one. We never sugarcoated it,” Meeks added.

“I also think the city is late … I think they dropped the ball,” Meeks said about the city’s slow response to deadlines and acting like they don’t know what he is planning.”

Norfolk City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday to be sent to DEQ stating that Meeks’ proposal is not permitted by the city, but it might be too late.

Here’s the problem: DEQ’s public comment period ended March 23. 

DEQ still hasn’t received Tuesday’s resolution five days after the deadline. 

10 On Your Side asked DEQ Spokesperson Ann Regn whether the city is too late to change course.

“Exactly. It may very well be because we follow a prescribed procedure for receiving comment and getting back to the applicant,” Regn said. 

Meeks adds, “If the city had an issue, they could have sat down and said ‘what can we do to help?’  None of that has happened.”

The city sent a statement with what it considers appropriate parts of Virginia and City of Norfolk code:

Subsection (B) (1) of Virginia Code Section 10.1408.1 provides that no application shall be complete without a certification from the governing body that the location and operation are consistent with all applicable ordinances.     The City has noted its appeal to the variances of the distances required from residential areas and the road.  The City has also responded in writing to requests for comments regarding the proposed waste facility.

City Code Sections 7-0.3 and 7-0.4.     Section 7-0.3 (c) limits industrial uses to “those that are not objectionable to the enjoyment and use of adjoining and adjacent zoning lots which are within ix hundred (600) feet, because of odor, dust, smoke, gases, vapors, noise, light, vibration , refuse matter or water carried waste.”  Section 7.04 requires a zoning certificate even for uses by right, the zoning certificate can only be given for uses complying with Section 7.03 and other requirements.  The site of the proposed trash dump is less than 200 feet from a residential area.  As noted during the public comment period, the affected residents and their elected officials have stated the obvious, operating a trash dump so close to residences is objectionable.   These objections appear timely,  especially considering that the applicant failed to provide the notice to the Mayor as required under Virginia Code Section 10.1-1402.01 or otherwise communicate with the city council.             

The city included Meeks’ application is not complete without certification from the city.

However,  the city missed the deadline, and DEQ cares about deadlines.

“These concerns have been brought to us outside the public comment period,” Regn said. 

10 On Your Side followed: “so it may be too late for the city to change course? They might have to approve it, and you might have to approve it?

Regn paused for a moment and said, “Possibly.”

Meeks claims he has spent $500,000 moving forward, and you get the sense if this doesn’t go forward there could be a lawsuit.

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