Company answers skeptics at community board meeting
Fresh from a judge’s decision to throw out a lawsuit by Mott Haven residents who tried to stop FreshDirect from relocating to Port Morris, representatives of the online grocery company found themselves answering more questions from wary residents at a Community Board 1 meeting.
A team of lawyers and company spokesmen informed the board at a June 12 meeting that a final review of the group’s proposal will begin next week.
The commmunity board, the Bronx borough president and the City Planning Commission will examine whether the project will generate enough jobs and revenue for the city, whether it will interfere with plans for freight train service originally proposed on the Harlem River Yards, and whether it complies with zoning restrictions. In addition, officials will examine whether traffic generated by FreshDirect’s employees and delivery trucks is more than Mott Haven’s congested streets can handle.
The review process will take 30 days, after which the proposal goes to the mayor, who has 20 days to complete his review.
At the June meeting, board members and residents sounded a familiar theme, expressing concern over the car and truck traffic the new facility will bring when it is completed in two years. Alexander and St. Ann’s avenues are projected as the access points for drivers.
“That area is so congested. The only times it isn’t are between midnight and 4 or 5 a.m.,” said land use committee chair Arline Parks, calling the area a “gateway to the rest of the city.”
Peter Liebowitz, a lawyer for FreshDirect, responded that 115 trucks and 140 cars would travel to and from the new facility at around 5 a.m., and would not have a significant impact on traffic at that early hour.
Board member Carmen Santos worried that trucks would add to the area’s high rate of traffic accidents and contribute to air pollution.
“We’re saturated with people with asthma. I’m one of them,” she said.
A FreshDirect spokesman, Richard Leal, reiterated the company’s promise to convert to an all-electric, non-polluting fleet within five years.
Other participants in the meeting asked about city and state subsidies amounting to nearly $130 million.
“What qualified you for such a huge amount of tax break that Mayor Bloomberg is giving you?” asked Delores Worrell-Waller.
Leal responded that “The purpose of the incentives was to try to maintain the company in New York,” adding FreshDirect is a “homegrown company. We’re going to be adding 1,000 new jobs to the Bronx. These are good-paying jobs.”
Leslie Lyga, who owns a small apparel shop on Cypress Avenue, said young jobless men who hang around near her store “need to have money” to stay off the streets, and that $13 per hour jobs aren’t enough. Some of the young men have some technical know-how, she said.
Leal said there would be jobs for “technically-oriented people,” and added that some of the current Queens-based workers may decline to move with the company, which would open up opportunities for Bronxites. Although the company’s non-binding agreement with the Borough President’s office that calls for creating jobs for Bronx workers “is not that specific” about hiring residents of Mott Haven, he said “the company will work with the community.”
Asked if the company’s recently announced plans to expand to 90 zip codes in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York would put more trucks on the road, the spokesman said that two tractor-trailers leave the city’s facility and return twice daily to deliver merchandise to substations in northern New Jersey and Philadelphia, where it is then loaded onto smaller delivery trucks.