Trash Talking: Residents of Four Private Bay Ridge Streets Still Waiting for Court Decision on Garbage Pickups

August 6, 2018 Helen Klein
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It’s been a year and a half, and residents on four of Bay Ridge’s private streets are still eagerly awaiting a decision from a New York State Supreme Court judge whether the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) will be required to resume picking up refuse from in front of their homes.

As of March 13, 2017, the agency no longer collects rubbish and recycling on Wogan Terrace, which is off 94th Street between Fifth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway; Hamilton Walk and Lafayette Walk, which are perpendicular to 94th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues; and Barwell Terrace, which is off 97th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues.

Residents of the four streets were notified by DSNY in a letter prior to the cessation of service in front of their homes to put their trash and recycling on the public sidewalk adjacent to their block, where it can be collected from the public street, a directive that not only was disruptive to them but also to their neighbors, whose homes are adjacent to their private street.

As a result, residents on both the private streets and adjacent public thoroughfares brought a lawsuit against the city in June, 2017, to have trash collection on the four private streets reinstated. The suit, which comprises what is called an Article 78 proceeding, used to challenge the administrative decisions of city or state agencies, is being heard by State Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine, who first got the case at the end of January, 2018.

DSNY’s rationale for the change in policy, according to the letter distributed to homeowners, was that “private walkways/easements and alleyways are not accessible for Sanitation trucks.”

However, as Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, pointed out, the policy change actually goes against what is written in the city’s Administrative Code. “You can’t put trash in front of someone else’s house,” she stressed. “The city issues summonses if you do that, so how is this not arbitrary and capricious?”

The relevant passage in the Administrative Code [section 16-120(a)] reads, “A person may not use another person’s receptacles without permission, or place his/her refuse in front of a premises other than the building in which he/she resides or works.”

While the city has, in its communications with residents of the four private streets, told them to bring their trash out of the private streets to leave it at the closest point on the public street — in front of someone else’s home, “They have consistently given out tickets under a section of the Administrative Code that says you can’t put trash in front of someone else’s premises,” stressed Steve Harrison, the lawyer for the residents, who said that the plaintiffs had “come up with about 100 tickets” written for precisely that infraction over about a five-year period.

“We said it was illegal,” noted Harrison, who stressed that the directive likely amounted to an additional 40 or 50 cans being placed in front of a neighbor’s residence. “They said, ‘No, it’s not.” Evidence of those tickets are among the exhibits that were submitted to the court on behalf of the residents.

Other DSNY arguments that the plaintiffs have countered include that it is “dangerous to bring a truck down the streets, but in 80 years they never did,” added Harrison, as well as an assertion by the agency that there was “A policy requiring private street homeowners to have insurance.

“However, no such policy could be found,” he said.

Collecting trash on the private streets had been a long-standing policy — one that dates back almost a century — and Sanitation workers would accomplish it by rolling a cart with a large trash receptacle on it down the streets, emptying homeowners’ cans into that.

“This has gone on since the houses were built. Now, all of a sudden, they can’t go down the streets,” noted Joe Sokoloski, who lives adjacent to Hamilton Walk, and who called the change “nonsense.

“You shouldn’t be able to put garbage in front of someone else’s house,” he added, “but that’s what they have them doing.”

However, the agency argued at the time it suspended the service that trash collection on the private streets is not a mandate and can be altered at DSNY’s discretion.

That, however, may not be the case, if an article that ran nearly two decades ago in Brooklyn Bridge Magazine is accurate.

The article, which appeared in the September, 1998 issue and which focused on a Barwell Terrace house once inhabited by famous Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, contained one paragraph salient to the current dispute which quoted then-84-year-old Bernadette Clifford who at that time had lived on the street for 38 years, having purchased her home from the man who built Barwell Terrace, a Mr. Newman.

“‘He told me he built the houses in 1926 only after the Department of Sanitation agreed to pick up the garbage on the sides of the building,’” Clifford is quoted as saying in the article.

“It’s an interesting article,” noted Beckmann, who emphasized that it was published “20 years ago, before the issue came to light. It certainly demonstrates that there was a real agreement and substantiates what we knew.”

Yet, the residents are waiting still for the judge to announce her decision. “Ninety days are long gone,” Sokoloski said. “Some people have given up. They feel it’s a lost cause.”

“I can’t believe this is still going on,” added Councilmember Justin Brannan. “It’s crazy! For the better part of 80 years, the city collected garbage from these private streets without issue or incident, and suddenly now they decide it’s a problem?! It makes absolutely zero sense. The homeowners of Wogan Terrace, Lafayette Walk, Hamilton Walk and Barwell Terrace pay taxes just like everyone else and deserve to have their garbage picked up just the same. I want to get results for the folks who live on these blocks and I am pushing Commissioner [Kathryn] Garcia and the administration to do the right thing and make this right.”

Harrison is hopeful that a decision is right  around the corner. Telling this paper, “All the evidence favors us,” Harrison emphasized that New York courts are “very busy. It’s not unusual for things to go on. The judge has a lot of cases in front of her. We hope to get a decision soon.”

Asked to provide a time frame for the upcoming decision, New York State Unified Court System Spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said, in a statement, “While there is not set time period, judges strive to hand down decisions on arguments in a timely fashion. Most trial court judges and justices have case inventories numbering in the hundreds so this is not an inordinate amount of time for a decision to be rendered.”

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