Manhattan City Commissioners are interested in further exploration of options to address waste in and tidy up Aggieville’s alleys, though talk of exclusive service contracts in the district drew concern.
City officials discussed strategies to clean up and consolidate trash and grease repositories in the business district at their Tuesday work session, part of an effort to make them more inviting to pedestrians and customers.
Cleanliness in Aggieville and its alleyways have been identified as an area of concern in numerous surveys and studies into the district, stemming from vision planning processes that led up to ongoing redevelopment in Kansas’ oldest shopping district. The 2018 Aggieville Vision to Reality concept noted 77 percent of approximately 4,200 respondents to a community survey favored a transformation of the alleys into ‘more public spaces.’
“Our desire is just to create a more pleasant area,” says Deputy City Manager Jason Hilgers. “A safer area, a more well-lit and even a beautified alleyway like we’ve seen in other communities.
“Leaving it the way it is is counter to the feedback and the input that we’ve received from the community.”
Citing a lack of expertise in waste management and consolidation, city administrative staff contracted with MSW Consultants. The consulting firm specializes in the area of municipal waste and has worked in the past with large localities like Los Angeles County, universities such as Cal State Long Beach, as well as smaller cities like the City of Lompoc (with a population of 43,232 as of 2019).
“Our responsibility is to help our clients by bringing ideas and solutions that we’ve seen in place elsewhere hopefully to provide some ideas for your consideration,” says MSW Consultants Principal John Culbertson, meeting with the commission via Zoom. “Not to say there’s a definite right way or a definite wrong way. In fact, one of the things I would tell you about providing waste management services is every situation is a little bit different.”
Culbertson’s guidance and the commission’s conversation was situated around whether to pursue some form of exclusive trash service contract for Aggieville or whether to introduce new waste regulations while maintaining non-exclusive trash service in the district.
Culbertson and MSW recommended going the exclusive route, saying enforcing collaboration among businesses in handling their collective waste could help reduce the number of trash bins in the districts alleys, of which they identified 80 separate units and 10 to 15 grease traps in Aggieville’s four alleys, and reduce the amount of trucks needing to utilize the alleys. He also says the increased efficiency of such a system tends to reduce on average the cost of trash services.
“It’s possible that maybe there’s some businesses that have some real sweetheart deals with their current hauler,” Culbertson says. “And if you went to an exclusive arrangement, it’s possible you could have some of the businesses in the region experience some increase in pricing.”
He did note the arrangement comes with disadvantages, including removing business’ option to choose or change their own hauler independently as well as the possibility of hindering business for haulers that aren’t chosen as the exclusive district servicer. Culbertson, though, downplayed the impact and says a fair and open bid process could mitigate some of that harm.
The conversation on consolidation, though, had business owners like Nicolette Unrue of Nico’s Little Italy concerned about worker safety — something she says is overlooked as a disadvantage of an exclusive arrangement.
“Where would those trash containers located, how are we going to keep our staff member safe?” Unrue asked. “I mean. how am I going to send a hundred pound girl out with a trash bag more than just out my back parking lot […]?
Charles Zentz of Tanner’s Bar & Grill echoed similar thoughts, saying his staff is more than half made up of women. He also pushed back on statements about the potential business impacts to haulers, noting the amount of waste they produce makes Aggieville larger customers than their geographic area might indicate.
“If we need tighter regulations, fine,” Zents says.
Aggieville Business Association Executive Director Dennis Cook says the sentiment is common among Aggieville businesses, and while acknowledging a desire to see the district cleaned up he encouraged waiting on any overhauls until planned alley redevelopment is more imminent.
“Our recommendation, with working with the staff, is to look at the non-exclusive [arrangement]and try to work with the haulers to do a better job,” says Cook. “Let’s clean it up that way and maybe we can find a better path for this.”
Hilgers says he thinks talks on the topic with Aggieville representatives have been going well, though says they do have to consider more than just business owners in their decision making.
“We’re going to invest hundreds [of thousands]if not millions in our alleys,” says Hilgers. “That’s infrastructure that is ours and is ours to maintain; There’s a lot of overhead power lines and a there’s lot of access there.
“We need to regulate that truck traffic — you have seven haulers every day running down these things.”
Commissioner Usha Reddi expressed some interest in further exploring exclusive service, saying doing nothing was not an option for her.
“If that traffic doesn’t decrease the improvements will only last so long.”
In his presentation, Culbertson also discussed financial aspects of potential consolidation and exclusive service. He mentioned if implemented sometime in the future, there would be a need to plan for some type of billing and management structure — likely falling to the city or a city contracted management company.
The prospect was not well received by the commission, with Mayor Wynn Butler being clear that he doesn’t want the city overly involved.
“Because we will do nothing but make it worse,” says Butler. “When government gets involved in trying to regulate business like that, it always ends up a disaster.”
He further said if consolidation is going to progress that it should be left to the district’s business owners to organize. Butler was more favorable of infrastructure improvements and policy proposals such as requiring less leaky bins or that grease be pumped directly from on-site grease traps rather than brought to external repositories.
Commissioner Linda Morse expressed similar views, saying the city doesn’t have to take direct charge of managing the district’s trash.
“I think there’s a role for our ordinances here,” says Morse. “If we’re going to fix up the alleys and spend money back there, then we have to insist on some of these things.”
Commissioner Mark Hatesohl was also amicable to some new regulation, though says action needs to be restrained by common sense.
“I really don’t want the code service people poking their noses around there all the time,” says Hatesohl. “Because we’re going to get more complaints about out of control code service people.”
Other ideas receiving commission support included increases in security cameras and further consideration of the practicality of additional compactor trash units in the area.