At towns' border, the loud sounds of discord

Steel is dumped into recycling bins at Sgt. Scrap on Route 130 in Gloucester City.
Steel is dumped into recycling bins at Sgt. Scrap on Route 130 in Gloucester City. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 07, 2014

At Sgt. Scrap, a metal collection and sorting facility on Route 130 in Haddon Township, business appears to be booming.

But on the adjacent block of Cornell Avenue in Gloucester City, the company's sound of success is more like "ba-boom, ba-boom," says longtime homeowner Judi Kaminski, 69.

"Bang, bang, bang," adds 40-year resident Joe Barron. "All day long as trucks come in."

"They start pretty early in the morning, and it's hard to get used to," says student Monica Grevera, 24, who grew up on the block. "It's loud."

The cacophony created as loads of assorted scrap metal are disgorged into Dumpsters is "ridiculous," yet another neighbor, Joe Dilks, 52, says. "I can't even sit in my backyard."

He can't complain to City Hall, either; Gloucester City officials have been trying for several months to get questions answered by their counterparts in Haddon Township.

"We try to address our residents' legitimate concerns about quality of life. We take those things very seriously," says Gloucester City Mayor Bill James, whose letters to Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague have gone unanswered (like my phone calls to Hizzoner).

"We expect cooperation from neighboring municipalities," adds James. "The same way we cooperate with them."

Sgt. Scrap's single-story, garage-type building and adjacent yard are next to an adult bookstore and within a light industrial zone that does not prohibit commercial scrap operations.

In 2012, township zoning officer Lee Palo determined that the business, then known as Dr. Copper, was permissible within the zone - meaning it did not require the planning and zoning board to hold a hearing and consider a use variance.

Over the years, the property has been home to a succession of businesses, most recently a used-car repair and storage lot.

"The question is whether there's a difference between what's being done [at the business] now and what was presented to the zoning officer," says Donald C. Cofsky, the board's attorney. Palo did not respond to the two voice-mail messages and the e-mail message I left with his office Monday.

On a recent afternoon that I visited Cornell Avenue, the metal-on-metal clangs emanating from the scrap yard were occasional, but loud.

The dull roar from the six lanes of Route 130 was continuous, however, and from overhead came the regular thunder of planes descending into Philadelphia International Airport.

In other words, Cornell Avenue - a cozy block of well-kept homes - is not exactly a country lane, as Fred Van Geldren, Sgt. Scrap's affable owner, points out.

"It's a block off 130. Tractor-trailers blow through all day long," Van Geldren, a Washington Township father of five, says.

As we chat, forklifts weave among construction-site-sized Dumpsters, and cars and small trucks pull in and out of the yard. Fourteen people work at the firm, including his wife and a couple of his kids.

"I'm trying to keep things running. I don't know what else to do," Van Geldren says. "If I lose this business, I lose everything.

"I'm willing to work with everybody to try and come up with a solution. But there are limits," he adds.

"I don't begrudge anybody trying to run a business and make money," Barron says. But he and other residents are concerned that Sgt. Scrap will lower their property values.

"My taxes are $5,000 a year," says Kaminski, whose back yard offers a panoramic view of Sgt. Scrap. "To listen to this? To look at that?"

If the township, and Sgt. Scrap, have followed the law, then a combination fence and sound barrier might help restore a measure of peace and quiet for the good people of Cornell Avenue.

Van Geldren, who strikes me as a decent fellow, says he has discussed such possibilities with Palo. But he says he has been told that the height cannot exceed six feet, which is too low to block much noise.

Perhaps Haddon Township would consider granting a variance for a higher fence. Or maybe Gloucester could OK a taller, better fence on its side of the border.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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