Trash talking

Photo courtesy of Abby Terkuhle Downtown residents complain to Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee about the overwhelming piles of residential trash set out for collection each night, crowding locals off the sidewalk.

Photo courtesy of Abby Terkuhle
Downtown residents complain to Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee about the overwhelming piles of residential trash set out for collection each night, crowding locals off the sidewalk.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC

When walking past the Frank Gehry-designed apartment building at 8 Spruce St. in the evening, locals say they sometimes have to choose between two unappealing choices: the rats or the road.

“The options are scurry among the rats by the Gehry wall [or] walk in the middle of the street and get hit by a car,” said Fern Cunningham, a resident of Nassau St. for 15 years, at Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee meeting.

When 8 Spruce St. and the new Pace University dorm near William and Beekman Sts. puts out their trash, Cunningham says it builds a wall of garbage six feet high that takes up most of the sidewalk.

Committee chairwoman Pat Moore agreed about the harrowing gauntlet of vermin passers by must face when going single file down the sidewalk to avoid the trash.

“You have to worry about whether rats are going to cross your path or not — run over your feet,” she said. “Often times, you will see people jumping and [yelling] ‘ahh!’ You know its rats when that happens.”

The management at 8 Spruce St. declined to comment.

Moore, who has lived on Cedar St. near the World Trade Center for almost 40 years, said that although the Gehry building is one of the “most ridiculous spots” Downtown for trash, the issue isn’t limited to one address. She hears grips from all over about looming stacks of bagged garbage, and torrents of what she terms “sidewalk juice” — a.k.a. garbage juice — that oozes out of trash bags and clings to the pavement.

“Everyone in the area has complained at one point or another about the amount of garbage. My street is disgusting,” said Moore. “You can slide down the street from the film, the scum.”

CB1 Chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes said the “triple whammy” of increasing tourism, a commercial boom, and a spike in residential conversions of office buildings has contributed to the overwhelming trash, which she compares to “bodybags of garbage.”

At this month’s meeting of CB1’s Quality of Life Committee, locals grilled city officials on how to fix the problem, but got few hopeful answers.

Dept. of Sanitation community officer Iggy Terranova said that residential buildings are allowed to put their trash out after 4 p.m. the day before their pickup, and businesses can put their garbage out two hours prior to pickup during daytime hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If commercial trash is getting picked up overnight after 5 p.m. up to 7 a.m., the business can put it out an hour before it closes.

Terranova did point out that residents can be fined for putting out trash earlier than 4 p.m., but local leaders said citations won’t solve what is essentially and issue of space for the tightly packed neighborhood.

“We’ve fought this issue on all fronts for years,” said Dan Ackerman, vice president of operations for the Downtown Alliance. “There’s not enough space. Sanitation can fine, fine, fine a building, but the wall of trash will still be there.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Terranova agreed that issuing summonses is not an effective deterrent.

“I can give a sanitation ticket and you don’t have to pay it,” he said. “And it’s going to go into limbo. And then 40 years from now when they go to sell the property is when they’ll worry about that ticket. There is nothing [that] says that if I give you that sanitation ticket that you have to pay that ticket within the time limit.”

Terranova said the department has been trying to give some type of teeth to the summonses, but they are still mostly ignored.

“We have had building owners that have gone, no joke, 20, 30 years later to sell the property. They’re about to make $20 billion and we tell them, oh, by the way, here’s a $5,000 fine because you haven’t paid your tickets. And then a deal is struck and they pay $200.”

When Hughes pressed Terranova on what could be done to minimize the impact of residential and commercial trash on residents, he said the board could ask for more pickups —but he quickly brought up a familiar and frustrating caveat.

“The one thing that is unique to Downtown Manhattan … is the congestion,” he said. “So yes, you could ask for more pickup, but what good is that because we’re not going to be here during the daytime.”

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