HELL'S KITCHEN — The city's Department of Sanitation slammed a block association with nearly $40,000 in fines after the group put up posters advertising a free movie night in a local park — leaving the group afraid to publicize its upcoming events.
The West 45th/46th Street Block Association reached out to alert its neighbors about its annual bike-in movie event in the Matthews-Palmer Playground last May by hanging signs on lampposts and traffic light poles, as they had done without issue for the past decade, members said.
But to their surprise, they were hit with 199 summonses and $39,800 in fines from the Sanitation Department last May — fines that were eventually dropped.
Now, the association is too scared to put up any new posters advertising this year's free events, members said.
"We don’t want to risk getting more summonses," said Chana Widawski, a member of the block association, which was also penalized for putting up posters asking for the redesign of Matthews-Palmer Playground. "We want to put up signs. We always did so responsibly. We would take them down after the event."
According to copies of the summonses provided to DNAinfo New York, the handbills were posted illegally. Each of the 199 summonses carried a maximum fine of $200.
The sanitation department stood behind its summonses on Wednesday, saying city regulations prohibit posters on public property — including trees, lampposts and fences, a spokeswoman said.
The fines were only dropped because of a technicality, sanitation officials said — adding that the summonses had been improperly mailed.
The fear of fines has kept the block association from reaching many of the neighborhood's new residents this year about upcoming events, including the May 21 outdoor screening of the 1979 film "Breaking Away," and a pre-show by New York Bike Dance, co-sponsored by pedestrian group CHEKPEDS.
The block association now uses a Facebook page and word of mouth to notify residents of events, but said many people likely aren't hearing the news.
"There's so much development. There's so many new people. They're the folks that aren't on our email list and don't visit our website," Widawski said.
"Posting signs in the neighborhood enabled us to offer the greatest spectrum of stakeholders a chance to weigh in. I found it hard to believe that signs notifying the neighborhood of free community events were such a priority for the Department of Sanitation."