East Spencer delays decision on street closing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
EAST SPENCER ó A request by an East Spencer business owner to close a portion of a road at the rear of his property was tabled Monday night.
Doug Holmes, owner of Holmes Iron and Metal at 629 N. Long St., asked that 847 feet of Railroad Avenue, which flanks the railroad and runs parallel to Long Street, be closed.
Holmes told members of the Board of Alderpersons the road had in years past been used for any number of illegal activities ó prostitution included.
“All kinds of things go on back there,” Holmes said of the secluded piece of Railroad Avenue. “We don’t particularly need the road, we just don’t want people parking back there.”
Town officials said Holmes was allowed years ago to put a gate at each end of the road at its intersections with North Street and West Division Street. That, they said, has effectively closed the road.
The request that Holmes made Monday, said Planning Director Kenneth Geathers, was more or less a formality.
“All you’re doing is legitimizing the closing,” he said.
But board members took no action Monday, Alderperson Theodore Gladden making a motion that the request be further studied before a decision is reached.
“I still have some unanswered questions,” Gladden said, questioning how the closing would impact the town’s development.
After Gladden made his motion that the item be tabled, Holmes told board members that he and his business have long received unfair criticism from town residents and others.
He said he’s heard his business referred to as operating “under the table,” an assertion he vehemently denied. Holmes said the business has paid more than $600,000 in taxes in recent years and has given to numerous organizations ó the East Spencer police and fire departments, included.
A number of members of the town’s fire department who were present at Monday’s meeting agreed, noting that Holmes has always given freely, several saying that were it not for his donations, they wouldn’t have the new uniforms they were wearing.
“I ask you to do something that will benefit the town,” Holmes said of his request that the road be closed.
Town leaders said that may happen, but not before further environmental studies are completed.
In another matter handled at Monday’s meeting, board members:
– Gave the fire department the OK to pursue about $400,000 in grants from a number of organizations. If the grants are approved, the money will come from sources ranging from the Julian Robertson Foundation to Wal-Mart.
Battalion Chief Josh Smith told board members that money from a grant request from the Julian Robertson Foundation would go toward new turnout gear for firefighters. He said it costs almost $2,000 to outfit a single firefighter.
Smith said the firefighters’ current gear has “reached the point where it’s not safe.
“Some are currently fighting fires in older gear that is substandard,” Smith said.