Community Activists Sue to Stop Fresh Direct from Moving In

A local Bronx activist group, South Bronx Unite, and other local residents are suing Fresh Direct, city agencies and developers, to stop the internet grocer from relocating to the neighborhood.

Fresh Direct is receiving $128 million in government subsidies, including loans, grants and tax credits, and in return the company has agreed to create 1,000 new jobs.

The local groups opposed to the project say the jobs are not guaranteed, and they complain the grocer will bring truck pollution to an area with asthma rates that are 9 times the national average.

“What the community wants is sustainable businesses coming in. They want cleaner air.  They want to reduce their asthma rates and certainly Fresh Direct will only heighten all of those problems,” attorney Christina Giorgio said. Giorgio, from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, is representing the Bronx groups in the lawsuit that will be filed Wednesday. 

The suit alleges that the New York City Industrial Development Agency failed to do a required environmental impact study prior to approving the government subsidies that Fresh Direct is to receive.

Mychal Johnson, a member of Community Board 1, is a named plaintiff in the suit. He said a thorough review would allow for a better understanding of what the project will bring.

“I just don’t understand how they don’t believe — meaning our governor, our mayor and our borough president — don’t understand how 2,000 more vehicles in our community will adversely effect our quality of life and our ability to breathe,” Johnson said.  

In an effort to stave off the lawsuit, Fresh Direct CEO Jason Ackerman said in a letter to the plaintiffs that assertions about truck pollution were inaccurate. “We have repeatedly said that our goal is to move towards a 100% green transportation fleet over the next five years,” he wrote. "We have already purchased 10 electric delivery trucks from Smith Electric Vehicles, a clean technology manufacturing company in the South Bronx, and plan to add many more once the new facility is operational."

The city’s Economic Development Corporation wouldn’t respond to questions about the lawsuit, but, in a written statement, EDC spokesman Patrick Muncie accused the group of trying to derail a project that would bring much needed jobs to the nation’s poorest congressional district.

Fresh Direct has been trying to build good will in the Bronx. Last month, the company announced it was expanding its delivery area to include all of the Bronx, not just the affluent parts. It also said it would be accepting food stamps on a limited basis as part of a government pilot project.

Giorgio said her clients are not anti-business or anti-jobs. “This is about making sure that when businesses come into the South Bronx, the community is involved and that it comports with the local community’s vision of the South Bronx,” she said.