Backyard Junkyards Pose a Real Threat to Southwest

A map of all the auto-related businesses in Southwest where junk cars fill lots.
A map of all the auto-related businesses in Southwest where junk cars fill lots.

By now everyone knows that there was a tire fire on November 9th on 61st Street near Lindbergh Blvd at a “recycling center” (i.e. junkyard).  The City claimed that the situation did not pose a hazardous threat, but plumes of toxic black smoke could be seen for miles, and many reported the smell of rubber and chemicals in the air.  We were lucky this time; it only took 3 hours to get it under control.  A good thing too, because these tire fires can smolder for years. 

Funny thing – this was considered one of the “legitimate junkyards”, registered with the City and operating more or less within the law.  These types of automotive uses have inundated Southwest for years now. Perhaps you have one on or near your block? Recently, they have been proliferating at an alarming rate, reaching deep into the neighborhood and popping up as “backyard junkyards”.  In some cases you can even see this phenomenon occurring on Google: where once were green lots are not are now covered in cars in various states of disrepair and other associated uses such as tires.  Many of these are illegal, however they fly under the City’s radar, or as is usually the case, the City chooses not to enforce existing laws on the books regarding junkyards and neighborhoods.

Southwest has more of these types of unregulated automotive locations/uses where something like this could happen again.  A lot more!  A few years ago, Southwest CDC created a map which shows over 125 such locations throughout Southwest.  It’s shocking to see really.

There are various reasons why these conditions exist.  As I said earlier, some are historic, having been here for decades where others are just now popping up.  The common factor is that the City is not ticketing the guy who is selling tires from the sidewalk, or the junkyard owner who has not properly enclosed his property so it becomes an eyesore and a danger to kids, or the group of guys who repair cars in the parking lot of a local strip mall with apparent immunity, or the truck cabs that sit and idle on the sidewalks, creating air pollution but also leaking toxic chemicals on the sidewalk to be tracked into the houses.  All of these conditions and more are occurring right now in Southwest.

The conditions that lead to a large fire at a registered junkyard are present right here in your own backyards.  A fire could break out at any one of these sites.  The neighbors are a fed up and the elected officials have been hearing about it.  Now the question is, what will the City do about it?

Steven Kuzmicki is the Economic Development Project Manager at Southwest CDC.

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