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Rep. Serrano hits FreshDirect

Bronx Times

While FreshDirect giveth, South Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano wants to taketh away.

The fresh food home delivery service that wants to move its operation to the Bronx tried to earn good will, doling out a hundred free meals at a South Bronx food pantry Thursday, Dec. 19.

But the day before, Serrano threw a monkey wrench into the grocer’s attempt to net a multi-million dollar development loan from the city.

Serrano’s opposition led to the New York Empowerment Zone —a city agency charged with funding development in distressed neighborhoods — delaying a vote on $3.5 million in FreshDirect funding that was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 18.

If approved, the online grocer would have received a $3 million development loan and $500,000 cash grant toward construction at its planned site on the Port Morris waterfront.

Serrano, who serves on the board with five other local leaders, vowed to oppose the funding should the board come to a vote. Approval requires all of the board members’ support.

The agency ultimately tabled the vote until an unspecified later date —and the project’s naysayers were quick to celebrate.

“The local voice has spoken, and it said that FreshDirect is not welcome in the South Bronx,” said Christina Giorgio, an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which represents South Bronx Unite, a local advocacy group fighting against the delivery service’s arrival.

A FreshDirect spokesman said that the company was not giving up on receiving the $3.5 million funding and would be reaching out to Rep. Serrano and the rest of the Board in the coming weeks.

Just a day after the setback, on Dec. 19, FreshDirect staff served up turkey, stuffing and veggies at Bronx soup kitchen Give Them to Eat on E. 156th Street.

It was the latest example of the company trying to curry favor in the community. In the past year, FreshDirect has expanded delivery to every Bronx zip code, started accepting EBT food stamps and promised to convert its truck fleet to low emission environmental standards. In November, the company partnered with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to donate hundreds of turkeys to local folks.

But Serrano echoed South Bronx Unite’s concerns that that Fresh Direct’s arrival would hurt the lungs of an already asthma-plagued local population.

The group is appealing a court ruling after its lawsuit was rejected this summer in Bronx Supreme Court. The suit alleges that the city’s Industrial Development Agency relied on an outdated environmental study when it approved FreshDirect for $87 million in city subsidies to be used toward its relocation to the Bronx from Long Island City.

“Sure, they can hand out turkeys, but they won’t give us the decency to do an up-to-date environmental study in an area suffering from some of the highest asthma rates in the nation,” said South Bronx Unite’s Mychal Johnson, who has led the charge against Fresh Direct from the start.

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394

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