For several years, the City of Manhattan has undertaken a number of surveys and studies to formulate some modicum of an organized vision for the Aggieville District.
In each of those surveys, the condition and utilization of the District’s alleyways has been a top priority for respondents.
Despite the overwhelming demand for improvements, very little action has actually occurred.
During Tuesday’s work session, Manhattan city commissioners discussed the possibility of rather large action.
In May, the City contracted with MSW Consultants of Orlando, Florida to look at the issue and make recommendations.
After its analysis, MSW found two options for the City.
John Culbertson, MSW principal consultant, outlined the pros and cons of a plan for the City to take over responsibility for waste management in the district by establishing an exclusive waste service provision. Culbertson also outlined ways to leave the district as non-exclusive but develop ordinances and regulations to guide waste management requirements within the district.
Culbertson and MSW believe an exclusive waste cartage deal would benefit the City, but acknowledged the complexity of the initial set up would be daunting.
He told commissioners that having non-exclusive cartage is less efficient and makes it harder to manage container types and locations. He also reminded commissioners about the impacts of multiple heavy trucks on the pavement and air quality in the area.
To maintain the non-exclusive situation but still improve the District’s sanitation, Culbertson said the City could beef up requirements for licensure and permitting, nuancing the language to ensure compliance and minimum standards, as well as designing a configuration of containers and haulers that will safely and effectively serve the Aggieville district.
An exclusive agreement would mean the City would take over responsibility for waste hauling in the District, likely contracting the service out, but forcing businesses within the district to pay for the service. Fewer, more centralized containers with larger capacity would replace the current scattered, arbitrarily placed receptacles.
Many of the problems with the District’s alleyways are a matter of simple logistics.
Trash containers and service entrances for most businesses are in the alleys. Currently, waste cartage for the 100 businesses and more than 80 trash containers in the Aggieville District is an independent decision. That means seven different waste hauling companies send trucks into the District multiple times every day, increasing the already congested traffic and often blocking alleyways completely.
Other issues, however, are a matter of aesthetics and public appeal. Major complaints have been lodged regarding how overflowing trash, leaky receptacles, and slimy grease spills in the District have a massive negative effect on commerce and tourism.
Commissioner Linda Morse said that leaving cleanup and adequate maintenance of the alleys up to businesses is unreliable. Simple requests don’t do the trick, according to Morse, and the City should do more to compel some level of compliance.
“I think there’s a role for our ordinances,” Morse said. “We can't achieve this by asking. If we’re going to fix up alleys we have to insist on these things.”
Mayor Wynn Butler said he is against government having a big hand in trash operations. He said he can support the commission investigating ordinances, adopting new code language, and encouraging businesses to consolidate waste service privately, but he is utterly opposed to the City taking any operational role.
“I don’t want to see the city get into the trash business,” Butler said. “Government gets involved and we’ll do nothing but make it worse.
“We’re not getting into the trash business if I have anything to do with it.”
Some owners proposed stricter ordinances and enclosures to hide the trash containers. Most everyone acknowledged the lack of enforcement would make any new system ineffective.
Some business owners objected to the plan because of safety concerns. They fear sending employees out to throw away trash in a centralized container far away from their location in the dark.
“How am I going to send a hundred-pound girl out into the dark to a trash can two blocks away?” Dennis Cook of the Aggieville Business Association asked.
Cook told commissioners that business owners he has spoken with recognize that they need to be cleaner better, but he thinks adjusting pickup schedules to allow access for regular street sweeper cleanup is a less intrusive plan.
Charles, owner of Tanners Bar and Grill, said that the logistics of a centralized operation could be impossible during uber-busy times like Game Days and graduation.
“We just get slammed,” he told commissioners. “Logistically we don’t have the staff to run trash two or three blocks away, two or three times a day.”
Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said the alleys will have be dealt with soon. The most recent survey, echoing numerous others, suggested that a vast majority of respondents are in favor of transforming the alleys into pedestrian and public spaces. The City plans to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars improving the district, and business may have to accept changes.
“I respect the businesses' perspectives,” Hilgers said, “but thousands of people walk those alleys to access businesses and they are unsightly and unkept. They need our attention.”
Commissioner Usha Reddi noted how the City and tax dollars support businesses’ efforts, and they must sometimes make concessions for the good of the community that pays for the infrastructure surrounding them.
“Leaving it the way it is is not an option for me,” Reddi said. “These businesses need to understand that everything around them is public tax dollars. We’re making improvements but if things continue like this those improvements won’t last long.”