NEW YORK - Some Central Harlem community members are still hoping to stop a truck depot from opening on West 145th Street.
The developer wanted to rezone the site for mixed-income apartments, but faced pushback. Now, his current plan could still be in jeopardy.
"Gentrification is the new segregation," yelled one protester as neighbors rallied in the rain Tuesday outside the site where the vacant lots transform before their eyes.
Developer Bruce Teitelbaum went from proposing a green energy district to perpetuating pollution through extra exhaust.
"We should never have to choose between being displaced by a developer or being poisoned by the developer," said Pamela Stewart-Martinez from the group WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
Activists call communities like Central Harlem "environmental sacrifice zones." Neighbor John England remembers the problems with the previous gas station at the location.
"I suffer with asthma," England said, "so it made it even more difficult for me to breathe aroundt here, not only just dealing with the noise. No matter how many times I made complaints, nothing was done about it."
City council member Kristin Richardson Jordan organized the protest on the anniversary of her swearing in, which was also her birthday.
"For some of us, this is an improvement," she told the protesters, "because we were actually here in this exact same spot exactly one year ago, demanding actually affordable housing for our community."
Richardson Jordan's" all affordable or nothing" stance caused Teitelbaum to pull his proposal last year, saying in part in a statement this week: "She forced us to stall the project, without any ideas from her about how we could move forward together."
The protest cries of "Harlem! Not for sale!" echo those of Astoria neighbors who fought against the 2,800-unit mixed-income development Innovation Qns last year. Council member Julie Won eventually voted to approve rezoning after negotiating for double the number of deeply affordable family units, and opening the project up for government funding by partnering developers with a nonprofit.
"We're not just saying, 'increase these units,'" Won said. "But 'here is how you're going to do them, and we will support you in that.'"
A nearly $3 billion project in council member Charles Barron's East New York district achieved 100% affordable housing after years of debate. The veteran city leader has encouraged Richardson Jordan to stand her ground, too.
Richardson Jordan's next step is gathering signatures to petition against Teitelbaum's truck depot at the state level.
"What we're doing in our efforts to shut it down is saying there should be no state licensing for an environmentally hazardous business in this environmentally protected area," she said.
For now, no signs point to a break in the stalemate.
Teitelbaum said his truck depot would open Monday, Dec. 26, but the gates remain closed with no rest area built out for drivers.
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