Proposed East Harlem Sanitation Depot Stirs Question of Fairness


By Melanie Grayce West

A city plan to place a sanitation depot in a corner of East Harlem has local residents crying foul over what is the fair share of city services to shoulder and how much the city should spend on their facilities.

At issue is a crumbling New York City Department of Sanitation garage on East 99th Street that needs to be moved. The city says it has studied multiple sites in East Harlem and settled on a location nearly 30 blocks north on a midblock parcel at East 127th Street and Third Avenue.

On that site—now a car dealership and a parking lot—the city would build an open-air sanitation depot that would funnel garbage trucks onto streets adjacent to a popular park, schools, churches, a new high-tech cancer treatment center and the future location of a mixed-use development that will include the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial.

“People feel like we’re being dumped on,” said Hallia Baker, secretary for the Harlem Neighborhood Block Association, one of several groups that oppose both the location of the planned sanitation depot and its design. “They feel like there is environmental racism.”

Ms. Baker and others say the city shouldn’t spend money on a temporary facility under a 20-year lease, but combine the planned garage with another permanent one off of East 130th Street.

Many local residents, business owners and community leaders also say the city should build a garage that is equal to others: enclosed, nice-looking and efficient.

Ms. Baker and others note that a new garage for the city’s sanitation trucks in SoHo is a $250 million architectural gem. In Astoria, the city has budgeted $130 million to replace a maligned, outdated sanitation garage. And in the North Shore neighborhood of Staten Island, it will cost nearly $140 million to relocate a sanitation garage from a residential area to the former Fresh Kills landfill.

In East Harlem, the expected renovation and construction costs of the sanitation depot on East 127th Street is $28 million.

Keith Mellis, a spokesman for the city’s sanitation department, said there isn’t a site currently available that will accommodate combining two garages, one of which is the District 10 garage off of East 130th Street that technically serves another community.

Sanitation officials settled on the 127th Street spot because “it will not have a significant impact in the area in comparison to other potential sites the city has identified,” Mr. Mellis said.

The Department of Sanitation cited space and funding as reasons why a dual garage or another site isn’t being further considered, according to a note sent to an East Harlem resident and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The note also stressed that other sites were dismissed because of size, proximity to residential areas, accessibility, funding or condemnation issues.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the East Harlem community, “has long supported the relocation of this garage and this proposed site presents a viable option to do so,” said Ms. Mark-Viverito’s spokeswoman Robin Levine.

Ms. Levine added that the speaker also supports the relocation of the District 10 garage, which is roughly four blocks from the planned facility.

The idea to move the District 10 garage has long been discussed, as has a plan to make one nice garage for two districts, according to Diane Collier, chair of Manhattan Community Board 11. Combined garages are common across the city. Ms. Collier said her community board has voted down the city’s current plan for 127th Street three times.

“Every time we can, we say no,” said Ms. Collier. “And it’s not our last no. We are asking for equal investment…we aren’t asking for anything that isn’t happening elsewhere.”

East Harlem residents are waiting for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to make her judgment on the siting of the sanitation garage. If she opposes the city’s plan—some local residents have heard from her staff that she isn’t in favor of the East 127th Street location—it would complicate the future of the garage and pit Ms. Brewer against Ms. Mark-Viverito.

Ms. Brewer is expected to make her recommendation this week. A spokesman said she is still reviewing the plan.

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