The last late-night revelers are long gone from downtown Raleigh by the time the 9-to-5 office crowd rolls in the next morning.
But it’s still obvious to pedestrians that the ever-expanding supply of bars and restaurants had a successful night because rows of green garbage carts line the sidewalks, sometimes giving off a whiff of last night’s fun.
To keep up with downtown’s thriving scene, city officials are considering changes to trash and recycling pickup at area businesses. The new approach could minimize the number of garbage carts lining the streets, as well as the litter, smells and space constraints that accompany them.
The city’s public works committee heard recommendations from the city’s appearance commission Tuesday and decided to open the discussion to the full City Council.
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“It’s an important conversation. It goes to not only the appearance of our city, but the safety, cleanliness, the health, the well-being,” said Council member Wayne Maiorano. “And it’s also an economic development issue. Businesses are going to have to wrestle with this.”
The solutions will have to be creative if officials want to tidy up the sidewalks. Many historic buildings lack the space to store garbage until it can be disposed of, and Raleigh wasn’t built with the network of alleys that other cities rely on to keep unsightly garbage carts or dumpsters out of sight.
The appearance commission has recommended:
• Placing trash compactors in city parking decks to centralize the collection process.
• Reserving curbside pickup for historic buildings where on-site storage is impossible.
• Making changes to the city code that would require the owners of newly constructed buildings to deal with trash and recycling outside of the right-of-way.
A starting point
Bang Le, chair of the appearance commission, said the recommendations are a starting point. What’s important is that officials address the issue now, before the city grows further.
“It’s very solvable at this point,” he said.
While parking decks may not be able to accommodate compactors, other spaces may work, he added. The city also will have to look at what is a reasonable distance from a business to a compactor and how owners feel about the idea, he said.
Fred Battle, director of Solid Waste Services, said there are limitations to what the city can do when it comes to parking decks, but there may be ways to accommodate compactors or other new ideas.
“You may be able to take some businesses off the carts, but I don’t think you can take all of them,” he said.
The city offers trash and recycling pickup from downtown businesses twice each day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon or evening. The businesses can choose which services they want and whether they want pickup one day each week or six or seven days, and pay accordingly.
Last fall, in response to noise complaints from residents, the city pushed back its morning collection hours, from between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. to between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Zack Medford owns Paddy O’Beers and two other bars on Fayetteville Street. He said there’s no easy solution to the trash pickup issue.
“We’re filling the trash cans up and closing our doors at 2 a.m., and the last thing a resident wants to hear is a noisy garbage truck at 4,” he said. “But if that garbage can sits out until the following afternoon, then it becomes a sanitary and cleanliness issue.”
Afternoon pickup has its own challenges.
Cheetie Kumar, who opened Garland restaurant on Martin Street last year, says she wishes garbage collection didn’t happen during the dinner hour, when many of her customers dine on the sidewalk.
“It squeezes this disgusting garbage juice onto the street,” she said. “It looks like a very large animal vomited all over everything.”
Carts off the sidewalk
Medford said he’d support alternatives that keep garbage carts off busy downtown sidewalks.
“I’d much rather see those be brought into parking decks,” he said. “For us, keeping Fayetteville Street beautiful is one of the most important things we can possibly do.”
Derek Ryoti, director of operations for Ashley Christensen Restaurants, which includes Poole’s Downtown Diner and Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, said he would be pleased to see an alternative to storing garbage carts on the sidewalk.
“It would be awesome. I would love it,” he said.
The commission also recommended the city make sure the garbage collection rules for special events are being followed by organizers and that business owners are aware of their responsibilities for the sidewalks in front of their businesses.