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Sunnyside Residents and Property Owner Come Together to Turn Empty Lot Into Composting Site

The new composting site on 45th Street, located between 43rd and Skillman Avenues (Courtesy of the 45th Street Composters)

Oct. 21, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A group of Sunnyside residents, a local nonprofit organization and a property owner have all come together to turn an empty lot into a composting site.

The ad hoc group of residents— who go by the name of the 45th Street Composters are collecting food scraps at an empty lot on 45th Street, located between 43rd and Skillman Avenues.

The Sunnysiders decided to start the venture after the city’s food scraps collection program fell victim to COVID-19 budget cuts.

The property owner and the composters came together despite a rocky start. The initiative was prompted after some of the 45th Street Composters — as part of a self-described band of “guerilla gardeners” — broke into the privately-owned lot in June and took it upon themselves to use it as a composting site and garden.

Despite the trespassing episode and an initial tense exchange, the owner of the lot, BH Village LLC, was willing to set up an agreement with the composters if Sunnyside Community Services (SCS) could come onboard.

The three groups have been in talks since June and last week a deal was officially struck.

SCS signed a one-year lease for the empty lot on behalf of the composters, who were given a key to the lot on Oct. 13.

“I’m just thrilled because to me it felt like a negative that turned into a positive,” said Judy Zangwill, Executive Director of SCS. “I just think it’s a great story about how people in the community came together to make something positive happen.”

The property owner and longtime Sunnysider Harry Otterman came to the negotiating table after some prompting from his nephew who works for Norcor Management, the company that manages the lot.

Otterman wanted to be a good neighbor but didn’t know much about composting. However, his nephew Michael Otterman is an avid composter.

The younger Otterman was sympathetic to the group of Sunnysiders as he too wanted a place to drop his food scraps amid budget cuts to the Department of Sanitation.

The Department has indefinitely suspended its brown bins collection and closed several of its drop-off sites due to cuts spurred by the pandemic.

“I was personally affected by the Department of Sanitation moratorium on compost and I was trying to come up with solutions in my own little world, in my own family,” Otterman said. “All that’s to say that I understood the problem because I was dealing with that problem myself as someone who likes to compost.”

The property manager spoke to his uncle about what they could do. The elder Otterman said he would agree to the composters using his empty lot if Sunnyside Community Services could be a part of the negotiations.

“There was no other community group that we felt comfortable proceeding with,” Michael Otterman said. “[SCS] was really our first and only choice for a partner to make this composting site happen.”

Norcor Management then worked with Zangwill, a friend of the Harry Otterman, to broker a deal. The management company’s lawyers came together with SCS’ lawyers to form a lease and memorandum from scratch.

(Courtesy of the 45th Street Composters)

The lease allows the 45th Street Composters to use the site to collect food scraps and create compost for a year, with the option to renew for another six months. SCS will pay $10 a month to rent the land, as an official lease requires a monetary payment.

The younger Otterman dropped off his own food scraps along with keys to the gate last Tuesday.

“I’m very proud that we were able to work together to provide up to a year and a half of community composting,” he said. “It’s my hope that the lease term will cover the shutdown of the curbside pickup.”

The compost site has proved popular among Sunnysiders.

The compost group has already built a mailing list that has about 200 people on it and there are about 50 people who regularly communicate on a Slack channel about the site, said Kristina Baines, one of the organizers with the 45th Street Composters.

Baines, an anthropology professor who lives nearby, said the composting site has really been an effort by the community for the community.

“I think it started out as just a place to compost since the city took away composting,” she said. “But it has grown into a group with shared values of how community can come together and work together to keep our waste in the community.”

Food scraps can be dropped off to the 45th Street lot every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the springtime, the composters will also do some plantings in containers.

The lot — together with the Sunnyside Community Garden on Barnett Avenue — collect up to 2,000 pounds of food scraps each week, Baines said.

(Courtesy of the 45th Street Composters)

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Click for Comments 
Really not a fan

Hate it. Living across the street from it is disgusting. I can see the rats in Queen of Angels parking lot running around during the day like they are in Chucky Cheese. At night you hear the rats in the bushes. It’s a health issue and 311 will be hearing about it.

Not a Fan

Maybe you all don’t live across from it but it is terrible. People are afraid to walk their dogs at night because the rats are bigger than their dogs. Squirrels were leaving pieces of food on my husbands engine cover and if rats start eating your car wires forget it. In the summer the amounts of flies in our apt. and bldg. is disgusting. They have just started composting again so let’s hope it goes.

Gardens Watcher

Passed by it today. I was wearing my mask and still could smell it from the sidewalk.

Sunnyside Compost

When the inevitable happens and the landlord decides to develop the property, s/he will become an instant villain.

Robert Smith

Don’t like rats? Maybe move out of New York City. Don’t like completely unused lots having a practical function to your community? Maybe get a hobby.

You know it’s true. Talking to you.

Nothing wrong with what they’re doing, but the smug factor negates their good intentions.

Particle Bored

So someone’s subjectively perceived smugness is more important than the result of their actions? Maybe your judgment makes you the smug one.

Wild Weasel

What happens when the garbage starts attracting raccoons,possum and finally rats.Also most people don’t realize that you can’t compost meat,bones and many other items it sounds great but what happens when they become overwhelmed,buried in snow?I’d like to see the unfinished park on P.S. 199 property on Greenpoint Ave and 39St turned into 4’×20′ allotments we have NO GREEN SPACE ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF QUEENS BLVD


considering sunnyside’s history, you’ll probably get a slab of concrete with benches facing the highway for some good ol’ breath of fresh carcinogens, and the media will call it a park. get used to the cemeteries. its the only green space we have and our only source of peace and quiet from annoying screaming kids and radios blasting, that and fresh air.


I trust that the organizers have thought through rats, vermin and snow issues and have a plan to deal with such. I totally agree with you about the lack of green space in Sunnyside though. I’ve taken to walking in Calvary cemetery just to get out but I’d much prefer a park.

No hashtags smug cheapskate

They’re doing this and your anonymously posting to a neighborhood blog. Talk about smug.

old as dirt

well good for them I guess..they started off on the wrong foot by calling themselves “guerilla gardners” and just walkng in & taking over…so good luck to them & hopefully the vermin will be kept under control

Rats carry diseases

The article claims that the compost site is popular among Sunnysiders. You obviously mean all the newbies.

Thomas Payne

Dont be fooled by these communists. Keep a third eye and ear open on them… they tried to TAKE this land because they don’t believe in property rights. They don’t think you own yourself either. To them, you belong to the state similar to what monarchs think.

Concerned Composter

Yes to leaves and other yard waste! We can’t take dairy or meat/bones. Thank you for asking!


Leaves and vegetarian kitchen scraps are accepted. No meat, bones, dairy products, grease or bio plastics.


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