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Attorney General James Says Harlem Truck Depot May Violate State Law

The new truck depot opened earlier this month in Harlem, but Attorney General Letitia James isn’t happy about it. File photo: Henry Beers Shenk

They're pulling out all the stops for this truck stop.

New York’s top prosecutor on Wednesday told a developer who built a controversial truck depot in Harlem where there could have instead been affordable housing that she may order it shut down because the dozens of new trucks bring more pollution to a low-income community of color that’s already suffered many other environmental injustices.

Attorney General Letitia James said the truck depot at W. 145th Street and Lenox Avenue may be a “public nuisance,” which according to New York State law, means it “interfere(s)” with or “cause(s) damage” to a “public place or danger(s) or injure(s) the property, health, safety, or comfort of a considerable number of persons.”

“Trucks are associated with increased traffic delays, noise, and vibrations, and can endanger the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Trucks also generate local air pollution,” James says in a Jan. 25 letter to developer Bruce Teitelbaum, which cites Streetsblog’s own reporting.

A few days before James sent the letter, Manhattan Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams rallied with community members at the site, where Teitelbaum had originally hoped to get a rezoning to allow him to build a pair of 32-story buildings comprising more than 900 units of housing and a Museum of Civil Rights. But Richardson Jordan opposed the development.

But after Teitelbaum opened the truck depot, Richardson Jordan vowed to shut it down, claiming it sits within the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which encourages the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated sites. But a DEC spokesperson said that a truck depot is a permitted use of the site.

Now, James is swinging against Teitelbaum’s depot and against the deleterious health effects of trucks — though her letter only refers to the disastrous health impact of trucks on this one parcel of land, in this one community. Hundreds of thousands of trucks ply the city's streets every day.

Advocates agree that Harlem is no home for trucks, but neither is the rest of the city.

"Cars and trucks are responsible for nearly 30 percent of all air pollution in New York City. Instead of bringing more pollution and more traffic to Harlem with a new truck depot, we should be investing in community spaces, housing, and people-centric infrastructure," said Shawn Garcia, the Bronx and Uptown Organizer for Transportation Alternatives. "This truck depot will make our streets more dangerous, and we cannot accept that."

And this wouldn't be the first time that the Attorney General stopped a truck depot from operating in the five boroughs. Most recently, James’s office shut down a Bronx school bus company from polluting neighboring communities through idling. She also sued two other bus companies for similar offenses, according to her office.

The letter asks Teitelbaum to respond to a series of questions — such as its hours of operation, capacity, the services offered, and its compliance with idling laws — before James’s office moves forward. Bringing Teitelbaum to court is a possibility, her office said.

Teitelbaum told Streetsblog that he has received the letter and will respond accordingly.

Richardson Jordan told Streetsblog that she "appreciates the support."

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