It started as a take-that-New-Jersey story — but now it’s become not-in-my-backyard.
Ah, land use battles in New York City!
The central character in this debate is FreshDirect, the online grocer looking for a new home, having outgrown its location in Queens.
Last week, news broke that the company has decided to re-locate from its Long Island City headquarters to the Bronx, instead of New Jersey, which offered Fresh Direct $100 million in public benefits.
The package that the city and state offered has incentives valued at over $100 million, the city announced in a release sent out last week. That includes $18.9 million in state tax credits, a $1 million loan, a $9 million capital grant, and from the city, $74 million in tax exemptions and $4.9 million in energy benefits. And much more!
As pols celebrate their success in holding onto local jobs — and keeping them away from New Jersey — there are some growing concerns from local groups and electeds about the neighborhood benefits and the lack of a sufficient public review process for this project.
Today, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes the potential site of Fresh Direct in the South Bronx, sent a letter to the NYC Industrial Development Agency asking that it slow down the approval process for the $74 million in financial assistance to give time for more community input. The agency has a vote scheduled for tomorrow.
Mark-Viverito is not necessarily opposing the project at this point, a rep from her office told Runnin’ Scared, but is simply pushing for greater community discussion. The IDA did hold a public hearing on Thursday last week — two days after the city announced the package that would retain 2,000 existing jobs and create nearly 1,000 new ones. The city says the construction of the facility will create around 684 construction jobs and an overall benefit of nearly $255 million for the city. (The city’s Economic Development Corporation also notes that public notices were published a month in advance, the details of the assistance proposal have been available for weeks on its website, and the announcement last week noted that that approval was “pending.”)
In her letter, the councilwoman — who may be eyeing the City Council speaker seat — asks the IDA to give local residents a chance to weigh in on the proposal. Among several issues, she cites labor concerns (possible union busting by the company) and health concerns (the South Bronx has high asthma rates and Fresh Direct would bring more delivery trucks to the area, though the city’s EDC notes that the company will mitigate emissions through electric trucks).
Today, we caught up with one of the local folks who is flat-out opposed to Fresh Direct moving to his neighborhood.
Harry Bubbins, director of Friends of Brook Park, told Runnin’ Scared that the site has great potential for a waterfront development that is accessible to the public.
“The community has had waterfront access and mixed-uses aspirations for decades,” he said. “We want to entirely stop this — it’s a totally inappropriate use of taxpayer money.”
Among many concerns, Bubbins said he would like to see a stronger, written guarantee of local job creation, though no amount of public process is going to change his mind: He is against the project entirely and sees it as a bad use of the parcel of land.
Still, the fact there has been very little input has made it worse, he said. “This… disrespects the communities here. It’s the final straw.”
Runnin’ Scared left messages with Fresh Direct.
Kyle Sklerov, spokesperson with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said in a statement, “We welcome and appreciate all public comments, and look forward to addressing them at tomorrow’s NYCIDA board meeting.” He noted that the company’s expansion in the Bronx would lead to job creation in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, at a time of high unemployment. “In all, this project would provide an economic benefit to the city worth hundreds of millions of dollars, far outweighing the investment that will allow this homegrown company to expand right here in New York City,” the statement said.