Community board questions FreshDirect deal

The Harlem River Yards in Port Morris, where FreshDirect plans to move. Photo by Joe Hirsch

Worried members say Mott Haven will suffer

Community Board 1 condemned the deal to move online grocer FreshDirect from Queens to Port Morris without community consultation after a heated debate at its March meeting.

The board passed a resolution authored by board member and activist Mychal Johnson, who charged Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and city and state officials had deceived South Bronx residents by pushing through the $123 million package of subsidies to the company too quickly, without allowing community input or considering the negative effects that added truck traffic and waste could have on Mott Haven and Melrose, which already suffer from some of the country’s highest asthma rates.

The city’s Industrial Development Agency approved the subsidies in February, after New Jersey tried to lure FreshDirect and its 2,000 jobs across the Hudson River. 

“We all want our constituents to have the best and not to be dumped upon,” Johnson said, adding he had received confidential data showing that FreshDirect plans 2,000 truck trips per day–far more than the company has publicly acknowledged–once it completes its move to the Harlem River Rail Yards.

District Manager Cedric Loftin strongly disagreed, saying a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the borough president in answer to critics of the deal, showed that the borough’s highest-ranking official was taking local citizens’ concerns to heart.

“I understand people should have been brought to the table,” Loftin said, but added, “I don’t think the door is closed” for further discussion.

“There’s going to be an opportunity for many jobs here,” Loftin continued. He added that he thought Diaz would meet with the board to answer concerns that FreshDirect will not comply with the agreement. In it, FreshDirect promises to try to fill about 200 of the 600 new jobs the company says it will create with Bronx residents and to build a cleaner-running fleet of trucks. The company is also scheduled to meet with borough president’s office in June to discuss expanding its service to the Bronx, where it currently delivers only to Riverdale and Woodlawn.

Critics call the agreement toothless, saying there are no sanctions if FreshDirect falls short on its promises, and say that the additional garbage and the air pollution from increased truck traffic far outweigh any benefits to the neighborhood.

“What happens to the jobs after they get the money?” Johnson asked.

“I’m not here to rubber stamp that,” said Land Use Committee chairwoman Arline Parks of the city’s deal. “I’m not saying it’s not a good deal, but the fact they didn’t come to us is a problem.”

Parks criticized the Galesi Group, the real estate developer that leases the rail yard and will be FreshDirect’s landlord, saying it has imposed burdens on the neighborhood without corresponding benefits. “The giveback has not been there in exchange for what they’ve gotten,” she said.

Community board members “often find out after the fact,” she added. “We need to hold them more accountable.”

The board agreed almost unanimously to a motion Johnson presented, condemning the process by which the city deal was done.

“There has to be a point at which we say ‘basta,’” Johnson said, to loud applause.