Through community involvement and law enforcement action, two cases of illegal dumping in Cleveland appear to be nearing a positive resolution for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Officials from the Kamm’s Corners Development Corp said they have been contacted by the New York-based property owners of the former Kmart shopping center on West 150th Street, who have promised to clean and secure the property, which has become a frequent dump site.
Meanwhile, detectives with the Environmental Crimes Task Force tell News 5 that the suspect who illegally dumped building materials on a vacant lot near East 124th Street and Rexford Avenue last weekend has expressed willingness to clean up the debris, as possible criminal charges hang overhead.
On Saturday, a man driving a large dump truck filled to the brim with construction materials and other worthless debris reportedly tried to dump debris on a vacant lot next to an abandoned home at the intersection of East 124th Street and Rexford Avenue.
Neighbors including Kendra Anderson reported hearing the truck spinning its tires and struggling to get out of a large muddy rut.
“You can’t write this. There is no script for it. It’s about divine timing,” Anderson said. “Did you see how much stuff he had? He had planned to leave that much stuff right there.”
Anderson went over to the vacant lot and confronted the suspect before he reportedly fled the scene. Police officers and city crews then spent the next several hours processing the scene and towing the large dump truck to the city’s impound lot.
“It’s not Christmas decorations. It’s not Christmas or Halloween or Thanksgiving at that. It’s not decorative. It’s unsightly and blighted,” Anderson said. “Regardless of what the population numbers say that you have individuals that live near or at the poverty line. That still does not mean that they want to live in an area where there is debris, garbage, and trash just openly exposed. We want our community to look like as if you were in Shaker or Pepper Pike or Westlake. Same taxpayers. Same county. We want the same look.”
As of Friday afternoon, some of the material that the suspect reportedly left behind was still on the lot. However, Sgt. Andrew Ezzo from Cleveland’s Environmental Crimes Task Force said the suspect, who has been interviewed by detectives, has expressed willingness to clean up the property. The suspect has not been charged yet. Sgt. Ezzo told News 5 that whether a suspect in an illegal dumping case cooperates with police can determine what charges are filed, if at all.
“Our main priority is getting the property cleaned up,” Sgt. Ezzo said.
Sgt. Ezzo said the truck was registered in the name of the man’s business. The suspect also reportedly went to the Fifth District police station later on Saturday to report that his dump truck had been stolen, Sgt. Ezzo said.
“We’re hoping that he has the property cleaned up by next week,” Sgt. Ezzo said, adding that the suspect does not have a criminal record. The suspect’s name has not been released because charges have not been filed.
Under Ohio law, people convicted of open dumping, which is a felony, face a two to four-year prison sentence and a fine ranging between $10,000 to $25,000. State law also requires that either the fine, the jail time or perhaps both are mandatory. Under city ordinance, illegal dumping is considered a misdemeanor.
“Illegal dumping is a big problem all over the city, unfortunately,” said Steve Lorenz, the executive director of the Kamms’ Corners Development Corp.
On the opposite side of town, activity was brewing at the former Kmart shopping center on West 150th Street and Lorain Avenue. Large tow trucks could be seen taking away semi-tractor trailers from the back of the barren parking lot.
For Lorenz, the activity was a welcome sight.
“We have promises from the owner that the back end is going to be cleaned up again, although that has been an issue all summer,” Lorenz said. “[The property owners] are going to be putting up fences to keep the people from getting back in that area and being able to dump.”
Earlier this week, News 5 profiled the issues at the dormant shopping complex and the issues that have come up since Kmart closed in 2017. Ever since then, the property doesn’t appear to have been tended to as large piles of building debris, tires, chopped up tree limbs, liquor bottles and other piles of trash line the back of the property that was once used to receive shipments. In the landscaping flanking the southern properly line, large shrubs and holly trees have become overgrown, largely shrouding the homeless encampment inside.
A small, ivy-covered chain fence separates the encampment from VFW Post #2533.
“We’re stuck. No one wants to answer the issue,” said Paul Weaver, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam era. “It being a VFW, a lot of our members are older and in their 70s and 80s even,” Weaver said. “They bring their wives up here and they get scared when they see these people near the parking lot. Then we also have our [bartenders]. They come out to empty the trash at the end of their shift and they also go out to their car. They just don’t like to see the people around because they just don’t know who they are or what they could do.”
On Thursday, Lorenz said he received an email from the owners of the former Kmart property, who notified him that because Kmart’s parent company filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, the property owners have legal right to not only clean up the property but also make changes to it. Those changes include the construction of a fence in the back of the property that would prevent people from illegally dumping and squatting on the site.
“They really have been engaged all summer but until recently they didn’t have access to that piece of property because it was under lease by Kmart. Now that Sears and Kmart have declared bankruptcy, they have better ability to take control of the property and do what needs to be done,” Lorenz said.
“These property owners, they own over 100 shopping centers across the country and they own some other ones that have had Kmarts closed before and have successfully redeveloped them. They have a track record of doing that. I’m sure that we are going to be okay come next Spring. A plan will be in place and we’ll have some new tenants in there," Lorenz said.
According to property records, the former Kmart shopping center is owned by Cleveland OH Center LLC, a foreign limited liability company that traces back to a real estate developer, TLM Realty Corp., in New York City.