|Mychal Johnson at the Harlem River Rail Yards|
March 1, 2012
Statement of Arthur Mychal Johnson
My name is Arthur Mychal Johnson. I am a resident and homeowner in the South Bronx, and I am a member of Community Board 1 and the Economic Development and Land Use Subcommittee.
I have come here today to identify a very serious problem we have with one of New York State Department of Transportation’s properties. The property, owned by the State of New York under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, is a 94 acre waterfront lot in the South Bronx known as Harlem River Yards. The property was leased for 99 years in 1991 to a private developer, Harlem River Rail Ventures, Inc. (having an office c/o the Galesi Group, Building 6, East Road, Rotterdam, New York, 12306), for the purpose of increasing utilization of rail freight services and reducing truck traffic congestion.
One Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved, purporting to cover all possible developments on the land over the full 99 year period.
Over the last 21 years, Harlem River Rail Ventures has failed to develop the intermodal rail terminal, which was the centerpiece of the policy behind the Department of Transportation’s lease of the land. During that same 21 years, however, the community has been forced to endure severe health hazards as a result of poor air quality caused by uses of the Harlem River Yards.
In the South Bronx, we have an asthma epidemic. Asthma hospitalizations are five times the national average; asthma deaths are three times the national average; and it is estimated that 1 in every 5 children in the South Bronx has asthma.
Harlem River Yards currently holds a FedEx hub making over 1,400 daily truck trips through the neighborhood, the New York Post printing and distribution center, and a 5000 ton per day waste transfer station, one of four waste transfer stations located within a 1/8 mile radius. And, Fresh Direct has just received more than $100 million in public subsidies to relocate to the Harlem River Yards, adding upwards of 2,000 daily vehicle trips through the neighborhood.
The cumulative effect of such facilities is staggering.
The industrial and heavy manufacturing uses on Harlem River Yards are also inconsistent with the surrounding area, which has been repeatedly rezoned over the last 21 years to foster residential and commercial development, explore community access to the waterfront, which Harlem River Yards blocks, and to turn the area into a “Gateway to the Bronx”.
In 1997, a five-block area adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was rezoned as a mixed use district. The new zoning was a catalyst for strengthening the area’s emerging antique businesses and for revitalizing the residential character of this historically mixed use neighborhood. As a result of the rezoning, approximately 42 rowhouses were rehabilitated, 36 new residential units were created or reactivated on upper floors of buildings, 50 lofts in a former piano factory were converted, and new ground floor retail and exhibit spaces were opened.
Then in 2005, building on the success of the 1997 rezoning, New York City Council rezoned a further eleven blocks surrounding the area for mixed use, this time including a focus on improved waterfront access.
The New York City Department of City Planning began examining options for waterfront access for residents cut off from the waterfront because of Harlem River Yards, and included the area in the agency’s Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan. In response to the rezoning, a new 419-unit residential development adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was built in 2010 and is now occupied.
The current usage of Harlem River Yards is no longer compatible with the change in the area’s residential composition. Severe risks exist for even higher asthma rates and other related health conditions.
Therefore, I request that the Department of Transportation place a moratorium on all new development at Harlem River Yards, including with respect to Fresh Direct’s proposed development, and conduct a thorough review of the current uses of the land, as well as the cumulative effects of such uses on the residents of the South Bronx, taking full account of the socio-economic makeup of the neighborhood and the disproportionate impact on the poorest congressional district in the country.