Mott Havenites say ‘no deal’ to FreshDirect

Mott Haven residents let city officials know what they think about Fresh Direct moving to the neighborhood at a public hearing on Feb. 9th.

Area residents say moving grocer to Port Morris is a bad idea

A contingent of Mott Haven residents voiced loud opposition to a proposed move to the neighborhood by the food delivery company FreshDirect at a Feb. 9 public hearing in lower Manhattan, citing concerns over increased truck traffic and reduced access to Randall’s Island as reasons the city should nix the deal when its Industrial Development Agency reaches a decision next Tuesday.

While many of the 75 or so New Yorkers present at the city’s Economic Development Corporation offices expressed their support for the company’s proposed move to a 16-acre section of the Harlem Rail Yard, 10 Mott Havenites denounced the $130 million package of subsidies the city pledged on Feb. 7 to keep the online grocer from moving to New Jersey.

They told the nine-member panel that officials failed to consider existing health and environmental concerns, contending the added truck traffic will worsen an already critical asthma problem for South Bronx residents who breathe some of the city’s foulest air.

“I am concerned about 130 truck trips back and forth a day in my neighborhood,” Mott Haven resident Donald Dunn said. “I am concerned that this plan will disrupt the development of the waterfront that we have worked so long for.”

Larry Hickey, Fresh Direct’s senior vice president of business operations, tried to quiet concerns about pollution from increased truck traffic, saying the company’s trucks have a “kill switch” that automatically turns off engines that idle for 60 seconds. He added that 10 of the trucks will run on electricity, further cutting emissions.

Critics of the planned move also worried it would cut off residents’ access to recreational facilities on Randall’s Island and disrupt the creation of the South Bronx Greenway, a concern voiced by the Bronx Council on Environmental Quality, the Harlem River Working Group and Friends of Brook Park.

And they criticized the city for announcing the deal before asking the public to comment on it.

“If this was Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, the deal would not have been announced without multiple hearings,” Melrose resident Ed Garcia said. “It seems like they’ve already decided.”

Mychal Johnson, a member of Community Board 1’s economic development and land use committees, said the vote to allow the move should be postponed so residents have time to learn more about it.

“Is this our only voice on something that directly affects our health, our employment, our children, our neighborhood?” Johnson said.

When a company representative claimed FreshDirect serves online shoppers across the city, the Mott Haven group hollered that no deliveries are made to the South Bronx.

“It’s obscene that with high rates of obesity and a paucity of fresh food that my community – our community – doesn’t have access,” Dunn said.

Hickey countered that the company determines its service area based on the zip codes customers enter on the website when they shop. He added that the company has urged state officials to change current laws to allow low-income shoppers to use their EBT cards to buy online.

Hickey added that his company’s presence will mean good jobs for locals. He said FreshDirect pays workers $12 per hour, and added that health care kicks in after six months on the job.

“At a time of too-high unemployment, FreshDirect’s expansion in the Bronx will lead to the creation of nearly 1,000 jobs in what is currently one of the poorest congressional districts in the country,” Kyle Sklerov, New York City Economic Development Corporation spokesman said.

But opponents argued there are no guarantees those jobs will actually go to South Bronx residents, despite Hickey’s assurance that 400 of FreshDirect’s 2,000 workers live in the Bronx.