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Trash-Littered W. 56th Street Block a 'Garbage Minefield,' Locals Say

 Residents and business owners say West 56th Street has turned into a "garbage minefield."
Trash on West 56th Street
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MIDTOWN — What a dump!

A one-block section of West 56th Street off Fifth Avenue has become a "garbage minefield," littered with takeout containers, trash bags, rank puddles and rat traps, residents and business owners said.

"It's disgusting here," said William Jack Degel, owner of Zagat-rated Uncle Jack's Steakhouse. "It smells on the street. We need to do something."

The block is home to apartment buildings, a handful of office towers and several high-end restaurants like Uncle Jack's, Il Tinello and Momofuku Milk Bar. But near Sixth Avenue, it's crammed with roughly 20 street-level lunch spots that are magnets for office workers, taxi drivers and deliverymen ordering takeout from chains like Potbelly and Subway, as well as sushi restaurants, Asian groceries and delis.

"People walk out with their to-go food, and then the containers and food pile up in our trash cans," said Daly Reville, outgoing president of the West 54-55 Street Block Association, which includes 56th Street. "It's an incredibly beautiful street located in Midtown with beautiful buildings, but right now it's not well cared for."

The issue's even attracted the attention of local politicians.

"There is no question that we need to find a way to deal with the sanitation issues and street cleanliness," City Councilman Dan Garodnick told DNAinfo.com New York.

The Department of Sanitation handles trash-collection for residences and garbage cans on the street. Businesses, however, are required to hire private companies to cart their garbage or to haul it away themselves. Most of those collections are done at night, locals said, meaning that stinky trash bags often sit on the sidewalk for hours.

"These fast cafes close early then put their garbage out," Degel said. "This city is too beautiful to allow stores to close at 6 p.m. and then have their garbage out on the street all night and ripped through by rats and rodents."

Regarding a solution, Degel and other business owners said they've previously tried to form a business group that would pay for more frequent trash collection, but that those efforts ultimately failed due to lack of interest.

They've also appealed to Dan Biederman, the head of three Midtown business improvement districts and the founder of a new BID for Sixth Avenue, one that ends just one block shy of 56th Street. BIDs provide sanitation services along the blocks they cover, paid for by a tax on property owners.

Residents and business owners have asked Biederman to expand the BID to include Sixth Avenue, but Biederman has so far declined.

"We're going to go ahead with the boundaries that were planned, which end at 55th Street," Biederman said. "Business improvement districts can support parks and support neighborhoods and avenues and streets, but the City Council has made it difficult for them to support residential neighborhoods."

Whereas office towers, regardless of size, each get one vote in a BID, condo buildings generally receive a vote per unit, meaning that a building with as few as five, 10 or 20 condos can outweigh even the largest commercial skyscraper. But co-op boards can prove nightmares to work with, Biederman said. 

"It's much easier for me to get a meeting with the head of Murray Hill Properties or the COO of Rockefeller Group or Paramount or even Donald Trump, than it is is for me to get a meeting with the co-op board," Biederman said. "Or even worse, the guy I can't get a meeting with owns a small building on the block but lives in Portland, Oregon, and so has no interest in talking to me."

Garodnick has declined to say whether he supports an expansion of the BID, instead referring the question to Biederman, who suggested that rather than expand the Sixth Avenue BID, it could instead contract sanitation services to the street's residents and businesses.

Rafael Yusupov, the owner of Deja Vous Hairdressers for more than 14 years, said he would be more than willing to pay for the cleanup.

"There's so much going on on this block — half is beautiful, but half is not," Yusupov said. "Newcomers here, they say it smells. In summertime, forget it. This block doesn't deserve that."