Pieces of razed buildings find new life at 'clean fill' site

On a dead-end street in a not-so-nice neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., a makeshift open air showroom has been set up with neat rows of asphalt pieces, concrete slabs and rocks on display. Next to them are piles of rebar and PCP piping.

They are all remnants of razed buildings and are products of a “clean fill” — as opposed to a landfill — operation in full swing on the property.

But it wasn’t so long ago that drugs and prostitutes were the only thing for sale on the deserted street.

“The more things that happen there,” Dean Zagortz said pointing to the mounds of dirt and rock behind him, “the less things happen here.”

When Zagortz bought the land in 2000, there was a rundown home and overgrown thicket of trees and poison ivy.

From time to time, Zagortz and business partner Holli Joyce, a Lawrence resident, would drive by the property and wonder what should be done with it.

The answer came in 2008, when the two, who are in the financial security business, formed ZJ Enterprises LLC, and decided to turn the land into a site where they would accept and sort materials from demolished buildings. They call the material urbanite, a term for a mixture of used concrete, block, rock, dirt, brick and asphalt.

“It’s the ability to take a piece of land and reclaim it,” Joyce said of the concept.

Over the past year and half, the business, which they have named GreenWill, has accepted materials from the demolished White Haven Motel, Prairie Village Standard and Roeland Park School. They have piles of rocks from buildings that used to sit along Sixth Street in downtown Kansas City, rocks they think could have very well come from their property when it was quarry at the turn of the century.

The 6-acre property sits just off of Interstate 70 near the Interstate 635 interchange. It’s sandwiched between Kansas City’s City Park and the religious retreat center Sanctuary of Hope, home of the large Jesus statue overlooking the city.

Zagortz also bought the adjacent property, turning a home into an office. The business partners fixed water runoff problems on the property, drainage work was done and a rain garden installed. They created a butterfly garden and planted trees.

Below the office is a wide area that has been cleared so there is enough room for multiple semi trucks to drop off materials. And then there is a patch of woods with trails connecting to the retreat center. The site has been visited by both deer and graffiti vandals.

A few hundred feet away, I-70 traffic zips along.

“On a good night it sounds like a roaring river,” Zagortz said.

Proximity to the highway was key to their business plan. Zagortz said the vast majority of their customers used their site because it was the closest and least expensive.

The site’s showpiece is a mound of 3,000 cubic yards of dirt, part of the construction debris they’ve accepted. On top of the mound, Zagortz and Joyce have planted an urbanite garden. Pathways are created out of pieces of asphalt, art work is made with rebar, curbs form outdoor couches, concrete conduits are planters and cinder blocks form comfy seats. Plants are located throughout the area.

Zagortz and Joyce said in about a month the site will reach the limit in the amount of material it can comfortably take.

The next phase of the project is repurposing the material, and where community involvement is vital.

“We want to hear what people’s ideas are,” Zagortz said.

They are looking for artists, architects, landscapers and homeowners who have unique projects in mind that could use urbanite. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, they are hosting an open house at the property, 361 City Park Drive, Kansas City, Kan.

Even if visitors don’t find something to take home, Zagortz and Joyce hope it will inspire folks to look at construction debris in a new way.

By Christine Metz

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