Opponents take FreshDirect back to court

Opponents of FreshDirect's proposed move to Port Morris rallied in front of the Supreme Court building on the Grand Concourse on April 7 before oral arguments were presented before a judge.
Opponents of FreshDirect’s proposed move to Port Morris rallied in front of the Supreme Court building on the Grand Concourse on April 7 before oral arguments were presented before a judge.

Lawyer says state illegally gave company a lease last year

South Bronx residents who want to keep FreshDirect from moving to Port Morris say they have new evidence that will help them win their fight.

Lawyers for the state and FreshDirect say that’s nonsense.

A lawyer representing  South Bronx Unite, the coalition of opponents to FreshDirect’s move, argued before a judge in State Supreme Court on the Grand Concourse on April 7 that the state’s transportation department quietly and illegally approved a sublease for the food delivery company on the riverfront parcel last December.

Christina Giorgio, of Lawyers for the Public Interest, which represents the community organization, told Justice Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes that a footnote in a letter  the state DOT sent on December 12  last year shows that the agency granted the company a lease on the waterfront land despite opponents’ contention the deal violates state law and potentially harms Mott Haven.

Last May, Brigantti-Hughes dismissed South Bronx Unite’s lawsuit. The group had asked the judge to block the move on the grounds that FreshDirect would provide no benefit to the neighborhood if it moves in. They argue that the original lease between the state and the group that has managed the property since 1991, Harlem River Yard Ventures, requires that any company that moves to the area must provide a public benefit for South Bronxites.

The city announced in February 2012 it would provide $80 million in subsidies to FreshDirect, to be augmented with about $50 million from the state, to enable the company to make the move. But opponents contend that the company’s presence would intensify existing traffic and air pollution problems and that the good jobs it has promised to make available to area residents are not as good as it claims.

Kaythryn Deluca of the state Attorney General’s Office told the judge that Giorgio’s claim that the transportation department had granted FreshDirect a lease was “incorrect.” She said, “DOT had no involvement in the negotiation,”  adding that “DOT’s involvement was very limited.”

Steven Barshov, a lawyer representing Harlem River Yard, agreed with the State’s claim that Bronx residents’ arguments amounted to nothing.

“There’s not really a there there,” Barshov told the judge.

The lawyers representing South Bronx Unite, in a letter to Brigantti-Hughes asking her to hear the new argument, said that after she had dismissed the suit in May, “facts became available to us establishing DOT’s involvement” in the lease.

Before the hearing, about a dozen protesters rallied on the steps of the courthouse, holding signs and chanting their opposition to the project.

One of the protesters, Angel Molina, pointed to results from a study conducted by the state comptroller’s office in March that show that Bronx county has the second highest asthma rate in the state. Mott Haven’s rates are third highest in the borough. FreshDirect trucks would make matters worse, Molina said.

FreshDirect has promised to convert to an all-electric trucking fleet within five years, but opponents are skeptical.

“It’s detrimental to taxpayers,” said Molina. “It would mean more burden than advantage.”

In addition to fighting the legal challenges that have been brought by opponents of the plan, FreshDirect must still go through either a state environmental review process or a local public hearing process before the deal can be finalized.