Online grocer FreshDirect’s plans to relocate to Port Morris in the South Bronx has generated opposition from some in the local community. Passions ran high during the first contact between the lawyers and representatives of FreshDirect and South Bronx residents and Community Board 1 at a June 27 meeting, reports Joe Hirsch in Mott Haven Herald.
New York City coaxed the food delivery giant to move its headquarters to Port Morris, following stiff competition from New Jersey, by offering $130 million in subsidies and loans. But the decision is opposed by some in the community, who fear that congestion and pollution will result from the expected daily traffic of 1,000 trucks to and from the new facility.
“Not so fast,” was the clear message the community had for the FreshDirect representatives at the meeting at Hostos Community College. The online grocer has allayed these fears by promising jobs with benefits and other perks for Bronxites and promising to convert to an all-electric trucking fleet within five years.
“It doesn’t matter where I get off, I can’t find a route to my house [near the Bruckner Expressway] that won’t take half-an-hour,” said Mott Haven resident Dr. Marian Rivas.
Resident Monxo Lopez, who lives three blocks from the proposed site, worried that FreshDirect’s arrival could doom local bodegas that are loyal to the neighborhood.
“Those are the ones who deserve our sympathies and our help,” he said, telling the board to “do the right moral thing. I beg you to prevent the city from giving $127 million” to the company.
Pollution and congestion are not the only reasons for the opposition to the project. Many residents want the undeveloped land on the flood-prone Harlem River Yards, where the new facility would be built, designated for public use.
“We are completely surrounded by water, but don’t have one access point,” said Corrine Kohut, who lives blocks from the site.
But others argued the company would provide badly needed jobs.
“My kids’ parents love working there,” said Stephen Ritz, Dean of students at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in Hunts Point. Many of his students’ parents work at the Long Island City plant, Ritz said, adding that FreshDirect’s presence would help introduce residents to healthier food choices grown on local farms.
Bronx Chamber of Commerce chairman Frank Garcia says FreshDirect’s presence will be good for local business during tough economic times when businesses are hurting. But the project’s economic benefits are helping little to tame the opposition. Christina Giorgio, an attorney for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, received loud applause at the June 27th meeting, when she announced that her group would appeal a judge’s decision three weeks ago to throw out a lawsuit brought by residents to stop the move.
“There are a lot of hoops this company still has to jump through,” she said.
A Highbridge resident, Killian Jordan, likened the city’s deal with FreshDirect—and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s support for it—to the Yankee Stadium deal over a decade ago, when then-borough president Adolfo Carrion removed residents of Community Board 4 for opposing it. Former Community Board 1 member Mychal Johnson, an outspoken opponent of the deal, was the sole board member Diaz did not reappoint last month.
Chaos erupted at the end of the meeting when board chair George Rodriguez tried to adjourn the proceedings.
“I’m very upset because we had the opportunity to ask them questions and we didn’t,” said longtime board member John Johnson.
When the board’s district manager Cedric Loftin tried to reassure him and other disgruntled members and residents that he would call an executive meeting to probe FreshDirect’s representatives more carefully, saying “You will have that opportunity” to raise questions,” then added, “do not ask for time frames,” residents were angered.
Many residents and board members objected to Rodriguez’s attempt to end the meeting, arguing that a board member’s motion concerning doubts over public access to the announced executive meeting had gone unaddressed.
“I’m asking you to please represent the community,” Kohut urged board members as they streamed out of the room.
Newly appointed board member Michael Brady, co-owner of the Clock Bar in Port Morris and a registered lobbyist, left his first Community Board 1 meeting disturbed by what he had witnessed.
“In all my years I have never seen such flagrant disregard of procedure,” he said. “There were no rules.”
“I was for FreshDirect and now I’m against them,” Ortiz said.
The board and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. have 30 days to decide if the deal should go forward, before passing it on to Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has to render his decision in 20 days.