The site where FreshDirect plans to build.
The site where FreshDirect plans to build.

Call for a moratorium on building in Harlem River Yards

A Congressman, state senator and two members of the New York City Council have asked the State Department of Transportation to reconsider the lease that gives a private company control of the land where FreshDirect is planning to build its new headquarters.

The legislators, who represent Mott Haven, are calling for a moratorium on all new development in the Harlem River Yards–including FreshDirect’s move–until an audit re-evaluates the impact industry on the surrounding neighborhood.

Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Maria del Carmen Arroyo began the effort with a letter to DOT commissioner Joan McDonald on May 3, urging the agency to take into account the harmful impact FreshDirect’s 2,000 truck trips per day would have on a neighborhood already heavily burdened with polluting industries.

Two weeks later, Congressman Jose E. Serrano and his son State Senator Jose M. Serrano wrote to McDonald voicing similar criticism.

The council members’ letter asks the state agency to re-examine the lease of its property to the Galesi Group, a real estate firm doing business locally as Harlem River Yard Ventures Inc. Mark-Viverito and Arroyo say the firm has violated the spirit of the lease by renting parcels to “an array of manufacturing and waste processing facilities that place a disproportionate impact of diesel truck traffic running in and through the South Bronx.”

There are four waste transfer stations on the narrow waterfront strip, which contribute to the area’s sky-high asthma rates, leading the council members to conclude “the tenant is using the property in a manner that is inconsistent with the terms of the lease.”

Since the Galesi Group signed the 99-year lease with the city in 1991, the area adjacent to the Harlem River Yards has been rezoned to allow for increased residential use, and to help bolster local businesses, the four politicians pointed out.

The Serranos note that the city Industrial Development Agency relied on a 20-year-old environmental review to sign off on the $128 million in subsidies the online grocer will receive to move from Queens to the Bronx. In doing so, the city agency failed to “take into take into account two decades of development” or “to contemplate the effects of the current and proposed uses of this property,” their letter says.

Although Harlem River Yards Ventures was given the lease to develop rail traffic, the Serranos’ letter says it has failed to do so, and instead has brought more and more truck-dependent business to the site.

“Adding insult to injury,” say Mark-Viverito and Arroyo, “Harlem River Yard Ventures collects approximately $500,000 per month in rent from its subleases while paying only $43,000 per month in rent to DOT for the entire 94 acres.”

Opponents of the FreshDirect deal hailed the effort. Mott Haven community leader Mychal Johnson echoed the letter, saying, “This is a budding residential area with new developments and loft conversions; it is not an industrial wasteland.”

He added, “We need open space and waterfront access and real economic development.”

Note: This article combines and replaces two articles on the letters sent by the City Council members and the Serranos regarding FreshDirect–editor

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