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Neighbors Say East Village Recycling Center is 'Destroying' Their Block

By Patrick Hedlund | October 17, 2011 7:16am

EAST VILLAGE — Fed-up neighbors who share a block with a busy recycling facility are demanding the center be closed because of persistent noise, drinking and public urination that they claim are “destroying” their residential street.

East Fourth Street residents say visitors to the Fine Fare Supermarket’s self-serve recycling machines at the corner of Avenue C constantly create a racket outside the facility, where many come to exchange everything from handfuls of bottles and cans to shopping carts filled with recyclables.

The issue has lasted for more than a year, ever since residents met with local elected officials and police to discuss the problem. In August of last year, a reported fight between two patrons at a similar facility on East Fourth Street led to an arrest and a trip the hospital.

Last Thursday, about 15 block residents met with the head of the NYPD's Ninth Precinct in a meeting hosted by Community Board 3 to revisit the problem, with neighbors claiming the facility and its patrons are “killing our block” and that they want it dismantled.

“It’s beyond disgusting what this has turned our block into,” said Ileana Montalvo, who’s lived on East Fourth Street, between Avenues C and D, for the past 30 years, adding she fears for her 17-year-old daughter’s safety.

“We’ve seen how Fine Fare has singlehandedly destroyed our block.”

Neighbors explained that the situation has only become worse over the three years since the self-serve machines were installed, with a “core group” of non-recyclers regularly gathering near the facility to loiter, drink, sleep and “intimidate” passing pedestrians.

“Essentially they live there,” said one block resident, who complained of having to pick up human feces “every day” and noted that some of the regulars hassle other people who often use the machines.

“This is a problem for us seven days a week,”

The residents played a damning six minute video for attendees — including Ninth Precinct Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr and representatives from a host of elected officials’ offices — which appeared to capture the crowds doing everything from fighting and urinating on the street to drinking, littering and changing clothes in broad daylight.

“It’s very convincing to me,” Lehr said about the video, which neighbors filmed themselves and which included footage from as recently as a day before.

Residents further explained that the center’s regulars begin gathering as early as 5 a.m. outside the facility, which a store manager said doesn’t open until 8 a.m., and stay throughout the day.

One neighbor said that “99 percent of the time” the visitors are drunk, adding that they act aggressively towards women and have been seen openly looking at pornography and urinating on food carts used to haul groceries into the store.

Aside from the unsavory activities outside the facility, neighbors added that the sidewalk has become filthy from visitors defecating and that many passersby choose to avoid the stretch altogether.

Furthermore, residents charged Fine Fare with employing some of the facility’s frequenters by paying them a few dollars to help unload delivery trucks and perform other small tasks.

Store manager Alex Ruiz, who’s worked at the Avenue C location for more than a decade, verified most of the residents’ complaints but denied that the supermarket employs any outside help. He said he’d like to work better with the community and that he personally runs off anyone doing illegal activities.

“Sometimes I call the cops,” he noted, “and they don’t do anything.”

Additionally, Ruiz explained that he’s bound by state law requiring the facility to remain open during store hours, and that he’s been ticketed for closing early.

“It’s something we can’t control,” he said.

Ruiz also noted that the cash incentive would always draw crowds to the machines.

“You look at these people, and they make a lot of money,” he said. “It’s a way to survive.”

Nonetheless, neighbors placed the blame squarely on Fine Fare, saying the store is complicit in letting the redemption center remain “a ticking time bomb.”

“We’re not against recycling,” said Ayo Harrington, who is president of the block association. “[But] we absolutely want this place gone.”

Deputy Inspector Lehr pledged to deploy additional resources to the area, and said that other city agencies could get involved to do things like power-washing the sidewalk.

However, he said the facility will always produce noise, given the nature of the operation, and that some of the visitors’ activities at the site are not actionable.

“In a lot of those cases, it’s not going to rise to the level of arrest,” Lehr said. “No doubt we have to do a better job. … This isn’t a hopeless situation.”

At least one resident of the block defended the recycling operation, saying its visitors are just trying to make a buck.

“We have to learn to live with them,” she said.