As the battle over the proposed Upper East Side waste transfer station heats up, an unlikely opponent has emerged from the ranks of the city’s real estate industry. Jed Garfield, the president of boutique brokerage Leslie J. Garfield & Company and a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, founded the activist group Residents for Sane Trash Solutions. For the past two years, he has helped lead a movement to fight the project with lawsuits and protests. Garfield spoke with The Real Deal about how the project will affect property values in the area, potential trash alternatives and the root of his passion for the issue.
Construction on the project, which would convert the Marine Transfer Station at East 91st Street and York Avenue into a kind of crossroads for hauling garbage outside the city, is already underway after the City Council approved the $240 million plan. However, Garfield’s Residents for Sane Trash Solutions and its affiliated Pledge 2 Protect have not yet given up. Last week, Upper East Side residents wore masks in protest of the station. The organization is also part of a lawsuit against the city that would stop the plant from rising.
How did you get involved with Residents for Sane Trash Solutions?
I helped form it, but I really got involved [with opposing the waste transfer station] because I ran into a neighbor near where I live on East 89th street, between York and East End avenues, that lives a couple [doors down] and she said, “You know they’re going to put a garbage dump next to Asphalt Green [a sports and fitness center].” I sort of laughed off the whole thing, like “That’s ridiculous, no one would do that.” I started to read more about it and I got in touch with a guy in the neighborhood and he said, “I’m having some more people over to talk about it” and that’s how I got involved in it. We’ve been fighting this thing now for over two years. It’s become a huge part of my life.
How has it affected your business?
A lot of people get involved with non-for-profits because of the business elements and I can say this has absolutely affected my business. People like good news. Garbage and kids is not good news. It’s bad news.
How will the proposed waste transfer station affect the Upper East Side?
The reality is our actions are hurting the people in subsidized housing, which is right across the street [Isaac Holmes Housing Complex]. From a fiscal perspective, it will receive a greater impact from this thing than any other part of the neighborhood. … [Y]ou walk on the side streets and it’s middle class. My whole thing has always been, don’t put these dumps in residential neighborhoods. … For the Upper East Side as a whole it won’t really matter. Ten years from now you’re going to have an insanely high asthma rate and you’re going to have a lot of kids that at this point will have grown into their early teens that are going to suffer from respiratory illnesses. And while that’s not really an exciting story and nobody cares, I think that’s what’s going to happen. … There’s also going to be [400 trucks in and out of the transfer station daily]. I would think that would mean more traffic.
What are the alternatives?
There’s Pier57 on the West side — it’s industrial. [There’s space near] Hudson Yards. [Politicians say], “Oh no, we’re not going to do that, that’s not an option.” What they’re really saying is, they don’t want to have a garbage facility near commercial developments.
Has the plan affected property values in Yorkville and the Upper East Side?
I think it has. I think it will continue to, but I couldn’t put a number on it. If someone said to you, “Do you want to live in Yorkville which is going to have all these trucks or you could live [in] places without it?” What would you do? You’d probably live in places without it. Unless you’re into trucks and garbage.
How much business does your firm do in Yorkville?
In terms of the townhouse market there, 30 percent. It’s probably no more, no less than we have anywhere else. I’ve never been in a community where something like this has happened so I full-well think this may not get built.
Have you had clients who have avoided Yorkville or sold in Yorkville because of the waste transfer station?
There are several [listings] at 120 East End [Avenue], 130 East End [Avenue] that have come on the market recently because of the perceived threat of [the waste transfer station].
Do you think they’ll sell quickly?
Doesn’t seem like they’ll sell quickly. Everything sells at a price, but I have no idea what that price would be. I don’t know, maybe people won’t care.
What’s it like to litigate against the city?
It’s tough. I’m out there three, four nights a week and people say “You can’t fight City Hall.” It’s a bitch. It’s a very, very tough battle. What I always say to people is — because my kids ask — I don’t know whether or not we’re going to win or lose, but I know if we do nothing the thing’s going to get built. I would hate to see those trucks going back and forth [and think], “I didn’t do everything I could possibly do.” To me, it’s very simple. It’s very much about what’s right and what’s fair. You don’t build a dump next to a playground.
Why are you so passionate about this issue?
What gets me absolutely insane are these politicians and they’re like “Oh, you don’t understand the issue.” I do understand. I find it offensive that we have these people in office that take no personal responsibility for what they’re doing. It’s not like [City Council Speaker Christine] Quinn’s going to come around in 10 years and help out those kids with health issues. It just pisses me off. The more I pay in taxes, the angrier I get about this whole thing.
Now that construction has started, what is your group’s strategy?
What you need to do, which we’ve learned, is sort of create a voting bloc. It comes down to the politicians and their vote. The waste transfer station was on nobody’s radar [until] we put it on people’s radar.