Whole Foods representatives
Whole Foods presentation of Gowanus store
Peter Fleming, chair of CB6's Land Use Committee
Hans Hesselein of Gowanus Canal Conservancy
Steven Miller, Carroll Gardens Resident
Last night, Community Board 6's Land Use Committee held a public hearing on the 56,000 square feet Gowanus Whole Foods store, which has been planned for the corner of 3rd Street and Third Avenue in the Gowanus area since 2004.
In order to build the proposed 56,000 s.f. food store in an M2-1 zoning district, Whole Foods is asking for a variance of the city's Zoning Resolution, which currently only allows them to construct a 10,000 square feet store. That is 5 to 6 times the allowable space.
In order to justify the variance, Whole Foods is claiming financial hardship due to the nature of the contamination of the ground, the grading problem that the site presents, and the bulkheads along the canal front of the property, which all need to be addressed.
This led one community member to ask what made Whole Foods buy the land next to the polluted canal in the first place. An awkward silence from the WF suits followed. Finally, one of the representatives meekly answered: "The land was bought before I joined the company."
During a comment period, local residents expressed concerns about how the project will impact the surrounding neighborhoods. Since WF expects 68% of its customers to arrive by car, many felt that the Traffic Impact Study was insufficient and limited to a very small radius around the store, leaving out some major intersection like Smith and Third Street, which is just blocks away and will most certainly be impacted.
Also, the future conditions projected in the study are for the year 2012. Not quite the future that one would expect. A more honest projection would be into the year 2015 or even 2020 when 4th Avenue is fully built up and Barclays Arena at Atlantic Yards with its 32,000 seat capacity opens.
In response to the community's traffic concerns, a WFs representative stated that the company believes that their traffic study was sufficient.
Residents also brought up the fact that the site is at near-sea level and in a flood plain. In recent years, New York State has had a policy of retreating from 100-year flood plains and from discouraging construction in such areas, because the state is the insurer of last resort in case of flooding. The assumed risk is just too expensive and a burden to tax payers. Whole Foods is arguing that it is more expensive to build in a flood zone, so they need a variance for an even bigger building, when common sense should dictate that we shouldn't built in flood zones.
The public urged WF to rethink the design of the actual building to make it look more appealing for pedestrians on both the 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street sides.
The company was also asked to set aside a 40 foot strip along the canal for a sponge park and to create a larger public area.
It was also felt that the store should close at 10 PM as opposed to midnight.
In the end, the CB6 Land Use Committee voted 11-4 to approve the variance. However, they accepted a motion introduced by committee member Roy Sloane, which asked for a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency in regards to the impact construction may or may not have on the future Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal.
The matter will be reviewed by the entire community board next week before going in front of the NYC Board Of Standards and Appeals.