East Spencer officials discuss sprucing up ‘junkyard’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
EAST SPENCER ó Members of the East Spencer Board of Alderpersons agreed Tuesday that what they’d like more than anything is for Long Street to be a scenic thoroughfare.
“We’re trying to make it where people want to build and move here,” said Mayor Erma Jefferies. “When they drive down Long Street, I want them to see a nice little town.”
Discussion about Long Street came up when board members held a called meeting to discuss efforts to beautify Holmes Iron and Metal at 629 N. Long St.
The business ó which several board members referred to as a “junkyard” ó takes up a long stretch of Long Street. Board members said the business is unsightly, especially to motorists crossing Burdette Bridge that spans the railroad between East Spencer and Spencer.
Members of the East Spencer Planning Board have met with Doug Holmes, the owner of the business, and said they’re hopeful he’ll agree to comply with a three-phase plan by which the looks of the operation would be improved.
Tammy Corpening, director of the planning board, told alderpersons that coming up with the plan was an arduous undertaking, and said Holmes seemed agreeable to the town’s requests.
Town leaders said the business has been in operation for such a long period of time ó since well before East Spencer had zoning laws ó that Holmes is not required to do anything to beautify the site.
“I think it’s commendable he wants to do anything with us,” Corpening said. “Hopefully, we can marry or meet somewhere.”
In a letter from his attorney, as a concession from the town, Holmes asked for the permanent closing of a stretch of Railroad Avenue that lies at the rear of his business property.
According to town officials, the road has been closed for years, with gates at each end. What Holmes is asking, those leaders said, is for the road’s closing to be made official. Railroad Avenue stretches parallel to the railroad tracks.
Jefferies said one of the reasons Holmes is willing to work with the town is that he’s tired of arguing with board members every time a new group takes office.
“He’s tired of fighting,” Jefferies said. “He’s at a point, he’s saying, ‘Meet me halfway.’ ”
She said she was encouraged that Holmes seemed interested in beautifying his property, noting that he’s already made a number of improvements to the site.
“We’re not trying to hurt his business,” Jefferies said.
She referred to the three-phase improvement plan as “setting up goal posts.”
Town Administrator Donnie Jones said much the same.
“I don’t want to appear anti-Holmes,” he said. “He has been a good citizen of the town.”
Planning Director Kenneth Geathers referred to the closing of Railroad Avenue behind Holmes Iron and Metal as “a very small concession, really.”
The closing is of 847 feet of Railroad Avenue, between North Street and North Division Avenue.
Board member Carlton Ellis argued the closing might be a bigger issue than some town officials claim. Ellis said Railroad Avenue is a state-maintained road (something that other East Spencer leaders said wasn’t true) and said closing it permanently shouldn’t be as easy as making the request.
“He is in violation of the state of North Carolina, yes, he is,” Ellis said. “It’s a state road. We can make him open it up.”
But Jefferies and others questioned why the town would want to go to the trouble, even if winning was a possibility. She tossed out the figure of $50,000 as the price the town might pay in legal fees to reopen Railroad Avenue, a street that was little used even during its heyday.
“It’d be a hard battle for us to battle, to fight,” Jefferies said. “It’s not a state road.”
Board members said the matter of the beautification of Holmes Iron and Metal will continue to be discussed at future meetings.