East Harlem awaits long-term garbage solution four years after de Blasio’s hiring


When the city pushed forward a controversial rezoning plan for East Harlem in 2017, Blasio’s administration made a promise: to find a permanent home for the people, equipment, and trucks that handle the neighborhood’s waste.

The neighborhood sanitation garage at 343 E. 99th St. and First Avenue has been partially unusable since 1988. It was at this point that the exterior wall of the two-story building from 1920 was deemed “compromised.” according to a 2017 land use report from the president of the Manhattan Borough. Gale Brewer.

Today the garage is shrouded in scaffolding, and due to its unhealthy structure, the Sanitation Department cannot store materials on the top floor of the building.

The city’s unofficial “waste museum” is also housed there, but “concerns about the structural integrity” of the building are among the reasons the collection of 40,000 objects is not open to the public, according to the report. DSNY spokesperson Joshua Goodman.

But the department still uses the garage as a base, parking sanitation trucks and snowplows in open land next to and on adjacent streets next to the Metropolitan Hospital, the First Avenue bike path, and a public school, which prompted complaints from neighbors.

Almost four years after City Hall pledged in November 2017 to find a new permanent trash can, plans for the East 99th Street property are unclear – and residents believe an effort underway to build a temporary home for local garbage operations is, on the whole, waste.

“With all the activism going back to the Young Lords decades ago, we still don’t have proper sanitation services,” said Marie Winfield, a resident of East Harlem, referring to the group of Puerto Rican activists who burned uncollected garbage in the year 1969. Garbage offensive to draw attention to neglected streets in the area.

A “question of environmental justice”

Winfield is a member of a “DSNY Community Advisory Board” that met with the department after the 2017 rezoning to address the garbage problem in the neighborhood, which currently houses two separate facilities – the East 99th Street garage and one on East 130th Street. and Park Avenue. – for the Eastern and Central Harlem sanitation districts.

The group’s objective is to identify a place for “a closed and consolidated DSNY sanitation facility”, according to the memorandum on the points of agreement of 2017 made when the city council and the mayor gave their fire green on the rezoning plan.

Despite quarterly meetings between the board and DSNY over the past four years, however, there are no current plans to achieve this goal, Winfield said.

“It’s just an ongoing environmental justice issue where other communities are somehow relieved of these types of conditions and fancy new garages,” she said, citing a $ 20 million LEED Gold certified sanitation facility on Spring Street and the West Side. Highway completed in 2015 that serves three neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan.

This installation, now hailed by some as an architectural marvel, was not always welcome. It took years to complete and had to overcome a trial by James Gandolfini and others over ten years ago to cross the finish line.

A quick fix?

However, a temporary fix is ​​underway to allow the Sanitation Department to move from its current East Harlem garage at 343 E. 99th St. to a new garage under construction at 217 E. 127th St. Goodman said it was slated to be completed within the next year and the ministry plans to move in next fall.

But Winfield said the East 127th Street space was presented to residents as an interim measure. In a 2013 letter to Manhattan Community Board 11, the Sanitation Department acknowledged that “this solution may not be perfect” and in 2017, a DSNY representative described it as “temporary” , DNAinfo reported.

Construction of a new DSNY garage continues at 217 East 127th St. in Harlem on September 23, 2021.
Rachel Holliday Smith / THE CITY

DSNY’s lease with the owner of the lot, Potamkin Development, is 20 years. And it will only house equipment for the East Harlem Health District, but leave the Central Harlem facilities at East 130th Street and Park Avenue intact, according to the department.

When complete, the new garage will not be fully enclosed and is about half the size of the Spring Street facility, according to Brewer’s Land Use Report. The president of the borough voted against in 2017, as did the council of the local community

Shawn Hill, a Harlem resident and member of the DSNY Community Advisory Board with Winfield, worries that once built, the new 127th Street garage “will stay for generations” despite the 20-year lease.

“If you look at how much the city allowed the East 99th Street garage to deteriorate before they decided to move, if you project that onto the East 127th Street facility, you can see how many decades it will take before they move. ‘they are undertaking some kind of change,’ he said.

Goodman said the sanitation department had been working for years to identify space for a combined garage that could house equipment and personnel for District 11 in East Harlem and District 10 in Harlem “long term.”

Each district employs nearly 60 workers and maintains dozens of trucks, plows and other vehicles, according to DSNY records.

He added that sanitation facilities across the city are “in a state of crisis due to decades of divestment.”

“We have worked for the past eight years to secure funds to replace, rehabilitate and repair the most catastrophic facilities, including the existing Manhattan 11 garage on East 99th Street which is woefully undersized and structurally compromised,” a- he declared.

Hill said the local board and DSNY are ultimately working on the same thing.

“DSNY would like to have a state-of-the-art facility. They want this. The stake is political. Will the mayor, the city council, allocate the funds? He asked.

In the Town Hall rezoning commitment tracking – a document prepared annually by the mayor’s operations office – the project is listed with a period between 2017 and 2027, but with no money earmarked. Funding column indicates “N / A”.

Council member Diana Ayala, who represents East Harlem, did not respond to requests from the CITY. Inquiries to city hall and the office of council chairman Corey Johnson were also not returned.

Barely notice the smell

The city ruled that the East 99th Street facility had not been healthy for over 30 years – longer than local Christina Vega had been alive.

The 29-year-old mother-of-two spoke to THE CITY as she crossed the street outside the garage with her young daughters walking from school on a recent weekday afternoon. She said she barely notices the smell of the place or the dozens of garbage trucks parked along the street.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, so I’m used to it,” she said with a laugh. “The smell, you don’t even notice it anymore. I think it’s embedded in my nose.

It is difficult for him to imagine what could replace him.

The Department of Sanitation keeps plows outside its garage on East 99th Street and First Avenue on September 23, 2021.

The Department of Sanitation keeps plows outside its garage on East 99th Street and First Avenue on September 23, 2021.
Rachel Holliday Smith / THE CITY

The future of the garage and its adjoining parking lot is uncertain. The garage is being built on property owned by NYC Health + Hospitals, so Goodman said “it will come back to their wallet” when DSNY leaves.

Health + Hospitals officials did not respond to an investigation into the future of the property.

Two lots adjacent to 1933 and 1943 First Avenue currently belong to DSNY. The properties will be transferred to the city’s Administrative Services Department, the municipal agency that manages all public property, when DSNY moves, Goodman said.

Squeeze private property

Records show that the land between these two city properties, however, is owned by a limited liability company controlled by Extell Development, one of the city’s largest development companies.

On November 22, 2017, the developer purchased the 40-by-100-foot land sandwiched among city-controlled properties on the main corner lot for $ 7.1 million. Eight days later, city council approved the rezoning of East Harlem.

Extell spokeswoman Anna LaPorte said the company “currently has no plans for the site.”

The Department of Sanitation was building a new garage at 217 East 127th St. in Harlem on September 23, 2021.

Artist’s impression of what the new DSNY garage on East 127th Street could look like.
New York City Department of Sanitation

Winfield, a housing law professional who studies the East 99th Street site and the Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem as part of Columbia University’s A’Lelia Bundles program, said she was concerned about the future of the property.

At the last DSNY Community Advisory Council meeting, held in May, a representative from the department said Extell asked the city what authorities were planning to do with its property on the corner of 99th Street. East, Winfield recalled.

She said that in rezoning conversations leading up to 2017, there were still plans to “make these sites for community use” – for affordable housing, or perhaps clinical space for the nearby Metropolitan Hospital.

“We certainly don’t want… where that, at the end of the day, ends up going for some other private use and not to the community,” she said. “The rezoning commitments must be taken seriously by this administration and the next administration. “

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