Cornerstone Trading Group on North West F Street in Richmond deals in recyclable materials. The company faces a trio of potential cleanup orders from the city’s Unsafe Building Commission. (Photo: Jason Truitt/Palladium-Item)
RICHMOND, Ind. — A recycling company has been given 60 days to clean up three pieces of property that the business uses on North West F Street, but the owner says it’s impossible for him to fully comply within that time.
Instead, city officials indicated they’re willing to work with Cornerstone Trading Group owner Seth Smith as long as he shows progress toward the ultimate goal of making needed changes to some buildings and moving out of the former Hoffco facility.
Richmond’s Unsafe Building Commission issued a series of orders Tuesday morning after about an hour’s conversation that itself was a follow-up to three hours of discussion during the commission’s September meeting.
Last month, the commission heard from city officials, Smith, his lawyer and neighbors of the company about the conditions at three side-by-side parcels: 308, 310 and 358 N.W. F St.
City Building Commissioner Aaron Jordan and Chief of Fire Prevention Doug Gardner took turns walking commission members through the results of an inspection at the properties that revealed several fire and building code violations.
Included in the list of concerns were piles of materials sitting too close to property lines, no easy access to the parcels for Richmond Fire Department vehicles, damaged roofs, a lack of utilities and sprinkler system for one building being used for storage, places where bricks have begun to fall from their walls and a few minor fire code violations.
Smith told commission members he’s been in the recycling business since 1987 and ships plastic to 29 different countries. His inventory comes from some 350 customers — mostly automotive companies — in a 150-mile radius.
In late 2015, Smith was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to take a step back from his company, then known as My Way Trading. He says the people he hired to run the business in his absence are responsible for inventory piling up throughout the three parcels of land and the buildings on them, which resulted in Smith having to declare bankruptcy.
According to Smith, it wasn’t until March 2018 before he was able to get his business back on track and start to get through the inventory that built up while he was sick.
City officials performed another inspection of the site last week and acknowledged Tuesday that Smith has made progress toward complying with code requirements.
The major sticking point remains the former Hoffco facility at 358 N.W. F St., which has significant structural and roof damage in places and no longer has a fire suppression system after it was removed by thieves.
Smith doesn’t actually own the plant, but he moved in his materials years ago when he began the process to ask the county to waive the unpaid property taxes on the site so he could buy it. He became ill before that process could be finished.
Even though the commission modified city officials’ proposed order giving Smith 30 days to vacate the building, extending it to 60, Smith said there’s no way he can make that deadline.
“There’s literally a little over 12 million pounds of plastic in that building,” he said. “I could start trucks and run them 24 hours a day and it’s not going to get done in 60 days. That’s if I had some place to go with that material.”
And if the city were to seize the site and do the work itself, Smith said he would be forced to shut down his company, putting in jeopardy the work that still needs to be done on the next-door parcels.
“If I’m not given time to vacate that facility, it’s the same thing as shutting me down,” he said. “(The bank) has 100 percent ownership of that material. It’s leveraged with a loan that I have at First Bank.
“If I’m unable to be able to do that over the next two years’ period of time, that effectively puts me out of business, and I don’t really have much of a choice.”
City Attorney AJ Sickmann explained that state law allows for the city to work with Smith even after the 60 days have run their course as long as progress is evident.
“If that does not occur within that 60-day time frame, it’s not as though the city has to on day 61 come in with hundreds of dump trucks and shipping containers and start moving things out,” Sickmann said. “Rather, after that 60-day period elapses and that order is not completed, the city then has the ability to undertake that work within that two-year period.
“So it will be something that will continue to be monitored, and again, it would be my suggestion that if there are good-faith efforts being made and substantial progress is being made to remove those materials and remediate and abate the problems, then the city probably doesn’t undertake the task of doing that for you.”
In the end, city officials and Smith agreed to talk over the coming days about putting together a plan of action for Smith to make the changes still needed at 308 and 310 N.W. F St. and next steps for getting out of the Hoffco facility.
Jason Truitt is the team leader and senior reporter at the Palladium-Item. Contact him at 765-973-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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