Business boosters seek to scrub sidewalks of clothing bins

Illegal clothing collection boxes infuriate Ridgites

Ban the bin!

Neighborhoods above Prospect Park have been hit by the scourge of illegal, sidewalk-hogging clothing donation bins that have long plagued commercial corridors in Bay Ridge and elsewhere, according to business groups that are backing proposed Council legislation to tighten restrictions on the boxes. Current rules give bin owners 30 days to remove the containers, which often advertise clothing recycling and occasionally tout charitable contributions but are generally for-profit. That grace period is way too long to let the bins sit in a public walkway, one local administrator said.

“I own a big metal box too. It says ‘Ford,’ front and back,” said Robert Perris, district manager of Downtown’s Community Board 2. “If I parked it on the sidewalk, it would be gone within days, if not hours.”

The metal bins have been proliferating citywide during the past few years, according to trash commissioner Kathryn Garcia, highlighting the problem at a Sept. 19 Council hearing. The sanitation department logged 2,093 reports of illegal bins in the 2014 fiscal year, which ended in June, up from just 97 in the 2012 fiscal year, Garcia said.

“The dramatic increase in numbers highlights the fact that the current law is no longer effective in deterring bin owners,” Garcia said at the hearing.

Current rules do not impose a fine for illegally placed bins, and area business alliances say that after the city issues warnings, clothing recyclers simply move their bins.

“It’s like a game of Whac-a-Mole,” said Phillip Kellog, director of the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill merchant group the Fulton Area Business Alliance.
A coalition of merchant groups including Kellog’s, as well as ones from Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Park Slope, is lining up behind the law that would require the city to remove bins on public property immediately, fine bin owners, and bill bin owners for the removal costs. Representatives from Myrtle Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and the Fifth Avenue pro-business groups all testified at the Council hearing last week in support of such a clampdown.

“They are unsightly, block access, and attract trash and graffiti, said Meredith Phillips Almeida, from the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, which also operates in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

The bins are so out of control that one turned up in a crosswalk in Almeida’s area, she said.

The head of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District complained that a bin in his area was bolted to the sidewalk.

“Lets face it: the owners of these bins are playing games with the city’s law,” said Mark Caserta, director of the Fifth Avenue group, at the Council hearing.

Josef Szende, the Atlantic Avenue merchant rep, said Council members should tighten restrictions as soon as possible.

“I think this issue is a slam-dunk,” Szende said. “And I hope the Council dunks it.”

The anti-bin bill was penned by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D–Bronx) and has the backing of 22 Council members, including Jumaane Williams (D–East Flatbush), Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), and Mathieu Eugene (D–Flatbush). Notably absent from the list of pols supporting the proposal are councilmen Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) and Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) and Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Fort Greene), whose districts contain the agitated Brooklyn business boosters.

Bins placed on private property with the owner’s permission are not illegal and are not in the group’s sights.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.