You Ask, 6 Investigates: Why is there a waste plant so close to a neighborhood?

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Black smoke filled the air Wednesday afternoon, the smell of it and sometimes, the sight of flames from a North Knoxville waste facility – shocked neighbors. 

“It’s a long time coming,” one neighbor said as they evacuated the same afternoon, pulling out of their home near Radford Place. 

The fire at Fort Loudon Waste and Recycling burning for hours, smoldering for multiple days. The official cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The company moved into the current location on Hancock in 2011, purchased at the time for $1,100,000. 

After the fire, as neighbors evacuated their homes and were warned to shelter inside to avoid toxic smoke, many reached out to ask: Why is there a waste facility so close to a neighborhood? 

Site was zoned industrial for years

The area follows the code and zoning set in the 1960s. According to Peter Ahrens, the Plans Review and Inspections Director for the City of Knoxville, most zoned industrial areas follow railroad tracks.

When the zones were set, many were built with access to transporation. The same zoning codes that were established in the 1960s are still in use today. 

In part of the description of a general industrial district zone, according to the city’s code of ordinances, the first use is that the area is used for manufacturing, assembling, fabricating, and warehousing.

To qualify, the uses must “not depend primarily on frequent personal visits of customers or clients but usually require good accessibility to major rail, air, or street transporation routes.” 

According to Ahrens, Fort Loudon Waste and Recycling was in alignment with the city code and ordinances. There were only three documented complaints from citizens, according to Ahrens, in the last three years. 

Reported complaints from neighbors

2016: A complaint about a dirty lot, the inspector visited the property and felt it was not a valid complaint. 

2016: A complaint about rodents, the inspector visited, records say they saw nothing at the location that was first reported, other than “material stacked together.” 

2018: Report of an inoperable vehicle that was then tagged and removed. 

6 Asks: What’s it been like living near this recycling plant?

“We never had a problem with any of the things that worked back there. they didn’t bother us, they didn’t bother any of the neighbors,” said Cheryl Austin, a neighbor on Morelia Avenue for 40 years. 

Austin said she’s lived through changes on the property over four decades of residing nearby. 

“We’ve had to deal with a lot of rats, dirt, bugs,trash spread up and down our street. it is bad,” said Austin. 

Austin says she understands the area is zoned for industrial work, but says she never noticed other businesses there until 2011, the same year Fort Loudon Waste and Recycling began operations. 

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