With a phone call to the city of Dayton, the owners of Coco’s Bistro got a team of public employees to haul off roughly 16 dump trucks full of brush, trash and construction materials from their property at no charge, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
The property owners and city officials say it was a neighborhood cleanup. Neighbors say they were never invited to take part and city officials admit it got out of hand.
“I pay taxes. They’re not going to haul it off for me, why should they be hauling it off for somebody else?” said Don Neeley, owner of Neeley’s Auto Shop, which is next to the property being cleaned up on E. Lincoln Street across from the restaurant’s parking lot.
Coco’s co-owner Karen Wick-Gagnet said her family put a lot of time and effort into fixing up the property around the restaurant since purchasing much of it this summer. Wick-Gagnet and her husband live next to the restaurant, and they are renovating other houses there for her stepson and stepdaughter.
“I’m not doing anything underhanded and I’m not doing anything bad,” she said. “We’re taking an area that’s been neglected for a very long time and cleaning it up.”
She said in addition to their property, they cleaned up brush and trash from neighboring city-owned and abandoned lots. She said she’s also asked the city to haul off things such as televisions and couches in alleyways.
“We live here, we work here. As far as truly being invested in the city we’re about as invested as you can get,” she said.
City Public Works Director Fred Stovall said the Coco’s owners called city Street Maintenance Supervisor Jim Brinegar directly and asked for the cleanup; he stressed it was for their residential property, not their business. Brinegar OK’d it, and the city hauled off roughly eight truckloads of trash.
Last Wednesday, the crew came back for another pile. At least five city workers were at the site, along with two city dump trucks and a city front-loader, which was scooping up blocks of concrete.
Stovall said city workers hauled away another eight truckloads that day, but he put a stop to it when contacted by the Daily News. He estimates the roughly 16 truckloads at two cleanups cost the city about $2,600.
“Basically what they’ve been doing is cleaning up these abandoned properties they bought. Basically we’re trying to work with them like we do with other neighborhood groups,” Stovall said. “This may have gotten out of hand a little bit because I think they created pretty big piles. And I guess it was more than we anticipated.”
The private company Dayton Dumpster Rental charges between $380 for use of a 12-cubic-yard dumpster and $520 for a 40-cubic-yard dumpster. That includes disposal, but not equipment or staff to load the dumpster.
Stovall said homeowners are generally limited to one bulk pickup per month through the city’s waste collection department, limited to a 4-foot by 8-foot pile.
But this was a “neighborhood cleanup” he said, which the street maintenance department does for other neighborhood groups several times a year, though “I think they went beyond the scope of what we normally do.”
Neither bulk pickups or cleanups, for example, are allowed to include construction debris or concrete, as this cleanup did.
The street maintenance department has 82 employees and a nearly $10 million budget to maintain streets, parks and abandoned properties in the city’s roughly 52 square miles.
The recent experience of Tyrone Tarr of east Dayton has been notably different than that of the Coco’s owners. Tarr said he has called the city numerous times in recent years trying to get it to clean up trash dumped in alleys around his house.
“In the neighborhood I live in, if you don’t have a mattress or a commode in your yard, you’re not living,” he said.
Tarr routinely calls to have stuff removed from vacant properties, and said pickup normally takes four to six weeks, if the city responds at all.
“It’s trash I’m trying to clean up,” he said. “If that man is remodeling his house, he should be taking it himself, not using our tax dollars to do it for them.”
Coco’s relocated from Wayne Avenue to Warren Street last year, with help from city commissioners who approved a $75,000, interest-free loan through CityWide Development. Coco’s owners spent an estimated $787,000 on the renovation, which gave it more space and allowed it to hire more employees, according to loan documents.
They purchased three lots on Pulaski Street in July and August for a total of $30,997, according to county records, and have begun renovation.
Neeley provided photos of materials from one of the houses being dumped on the pile and said cars driving into his auto shop have ran over nails that had been dumped there.
Wick-Gagnet said the lot where the debris was being dumped, which they own, will be turned into a “beautiful” parking lot that utilizes green technology.
“We’ve invested over a million dollars into this project, in this neighborhood, in this block,” she said, though she believes the city would do the same for anyone. “I feel 100 percent that our city leaders, our commission would back them up on anything.
“We are just into stabilizing the neighborhood.”
Neeley and Ed Tharp, who lives in Dayton and works at Neeley’s garage, appreciate the work Gagnet-Wick’s family have done to improve the area.
“They’re improving the neighborhood. That’s great, but fair is fair,” Tharp said. “They don’t do it for me. I can’t buy a place and have the city come tear it down and haul it off.”
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