March 25, 2010

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Streets Department relents on curbside trash collection

On March 16, Gary Howell gave Mt. Airy residents near the Trolley Car Diner some welcome news: Trash would continue to be collected in the alleyways.

Though seemingly inconsequential, this announcement from the city’s Assistant Administrator for Sanitation Collection offered a partial solution to the more than month-long dispute between residents and the Streets Department, which wanted to move trash and recycling collection for area residents to the street.

At a meeting Monday night at the Trolley Car Diner, residents agreed to continue petitioning the city to have recycling and trash picked up behind their homes. As of this writing, however, the city still planned to collect recycling at the curb.

On Feb. 5, residents were upset when they found leaflets in their doors telling them that trash and recycling collection would move curbside on Feb. 26.

For nearly 50 years, trash – on the 7500 block of Boyer Street, the 7500 block of Germantown Avenue, the unit block of McPherson Street, and the unit and 100 blocks Roumfort Road – had been collected in the alleyways without any problems.

In the one-page notice, the city explained that curbside trash pickup would “help eliminate the possibility of damage to your property and city equipment.”

A trash truck had damaged a wall in an alleyway earlier that winter, but neighbors never expressed interest in a change because they couldn’t imagine taking their trash to the street.

“There’s no walkway in between the houses,” explained Lisa Holgash, a Democratic committe woman for the 9th Ward. “Some houses are set up high and there are steps on their front yards. Most houses don’t have backyards.”

In a February commentary published in the Chestnut Hill Local, Boyer Street resident Joanne Davis added that elderly and disabled residents would have a hard time dragging their trash from the back of their house to the front.

Shortly after the notification, Holgash met with a few neighbors to write a letter that outlined the concerns they had with the city’s proposal and asked for a meeting with members of the Streets Department. A petition with close to 80 resident signatures was also included with the letter and sent to Streets Commissioner Clarina Tolson.

The petition letter, Holgash said, was later copied and sent to Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller and Councilman Bill Green, both of whom sit on council’s streets committee. Holgash said she also called Councilman Bill Greenlee, another member of that committee, and sent a copy to Mayor Michael Nutter’s office.

In response, the Streets Department did delay (for reasons that aren’t completely clear to Holgash) the new curbside trash pickup, but department officials didn’t meet with neighbors until March 10, nearly a month after the initial request.  And only after Councilman Bill Green’s office spoke with the department, Holgash said.

Nearly 50 neighbors crammed into Karen Rothschild’s McPherson Street row home that night to share their concerns with Howell and Marita Crawford from Councilman Green’s Office.

Crawford and Howell told residents the city would look into getting smaller trash trucks that could better navigate the neighborhood’s narrow alleyways and streets. That way, Crawford said, trash collection could stay the way it was.

“The city handled themselves well and so did we,” said Dorothy Taylor, who has lived in the area for over 40 years. “But I think they knew that we meant business.”

The following Tuesday, Howell returned – to the house next door – to tell neighbors that a smaller truck from a Manayunk route would be assigned to the area, and trash would be collected in the alleyways.

“We had to arrange a sort of re-route of the vehicle,” Howell said. “Take it off some work that it was already doing to ensure that this driveway gets collected. We’re here to work with the people. We’re here to do our best.”

Neighbors at the meeting were outwardly relieved and even applauded after Howell’s announcement.

“I think they worked out a very good agreement here. As long as they have the right-sized trucks, it’s not going to be an issue,” said James Wilson, who has lived on Boyer Street for more than 40 years.

“The thing that makes us feel so good is that the neighborhood stood together,” Taylor said.



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