NY attorney general weighs in: Harlem truck depot could be illegal


A months-long standoff between a Harlem councilmember and developer over affordable housing has taken a new twist, with Attorney General Letitia James contending in a letter that plans to instead operate a truck depot on the West 145th Street property could be unlawful.

“Based on information available to us, we are concerned that operation of the truck depot may constitute a public nuisance,” James wrote in a Jan. 25 letter to Bruce Teitelbaum, the CEO of RPG, giving him 10 days to provide details about the hours and expected traffic at the planned depot – on land the builder previously eyed for housing.

Teitelbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment and James’ office had not yet received a reply to her letter, which cited a host of environmental and health concerns.

The “Park Your Fleet” truck depot represents a vast departure from Teitelbaum’s original plans for the property, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue. He originally proposed a 939-unit residential high-rise complex, the $700 million One45, and agreed to terms that would have set aside 40% of the units for tenants earning half the area’s median income or less.

A vacant lot on West 145th Street in Harlem, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue, where a developer plans a truck depot after first proposing new housing, including affordable units.

Herb Pinder / Gothamist

While the terms were seen by some elected officials as reasonable, Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan, who represents the area, said she disagreed and the negotiations fell apart, resulting in Teitelbaum warning that if he could not build a high-rise, he’d find some other use for the land, a former gas station. By tradition, councilmembers defer to the wishes of individual lawmakers on building projects in their districts.

“This is not the result we planned or hoped for on 145th Street,” Teitelbaum told the New York Times, which published an article about the controversy . “But without someone who is willing to find common ground and compromise, we have no other viable alternative or choices.”

Jordan, a Democratic Socialist who describes herself on her Council website as “a third-generation Harlemite who has known Harlem since she was four months old,” did not make herself available for an interview. However, on Instagram, she addressed the controversy, writing, “you cannot build a truck stop” and “we want ACTUALLY affordable and low income housing,” while promoting a Jan. 28 rally at what she called “the scene of the crime truck stop.”

There were no trucks and little else was stirring on the property Thursday afternoon. Behind a cyclone fence, a lone worker appeared to be installing wiring, against a backdrop of walls covered with graffiti. Passersby who said they lived nearby said they hadn’t noticed any truck traffic, notwithstanding the appearance of at least one idling truck on the lot last week.

Air pollution is one of the most significant environmental threats to New Yorkers, contributing to approximately 6% of deaths annually. Of particular concern, the surrounding neighborhood already suffers from a high rate of child hospitalization associated with pollution-induced asthma.

New York Attorney General Letitia James

But a red and white banner strung from the former gas station’s canopy invited a different future: “PARK YOUR FLEET,” followed by contact information. Neighbors of the lot include a gas station, pizza parlor, Dunkin and offices of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Directly behind the lot and across 145th Street: rows of low-rise apartment buildings.

In her letter, James raised concerns about the potential increase in air pollution and warned Teitelbaum he could be violating state and local prohibitions against idling.

“Air pollution is one of the most significant environmental threats to New Yorkers, contributing to approximately 6% of deaths annually,” wrote James. “Of particular concern, the surrounding neighborhood already suffers from a high rate of child hospitalization associated with pollution-induced asthma.”

On Twitter, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called the opening of the depot “unacceptable,” but indicated that the earlier terms had passed muster. The property is in a community where one in five residents lives below the poverty line and nearly 40% of households are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend 35% or more of their income on rent.

“An upzoning at this site proposed last year would’ve allowed for 939 apartments,” he wrote. “My office stipulated that at least 50% of those units must be affordable. The final proposal, while not perfect, met this goal.”

In an interview with Gothamist, Levine said the community desperately needs affordable housing and the fact that the site now has a “truck stop is absolutely outrageous.”

“It is a perpetuation of decades and decades of environmental degradation in a neighborhood with elevated asthma rates,” he said. “We do not want a truck stop on 145th. We want housing there.”

While noting that Teitelbaum “has not yet indicated much of an interest in trying again,” Levine said he hoped the various sides could be brought together again.


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