Friday, June 03, 2011

Gowanus Whole Foods: At Last Night's CB6 Land Use Committee Meeting

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Whole Foods representatives
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Whole Foods presentation of Gowanus store
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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.


12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hahahahahahaha. "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 " um. Greed?
Corporate domination? Carts before horses?
I'm actually mesmorized by that chipper pen and ink rendering. So calming and meaningful. Financial hardship?
Really? Go away Whole Foods. You all should have done
A survey before even considering this property.

Anonymous said...

Keep the greed and corporate domination coming- I'm thrilled there will eventually be a whole foods in the area.

Anonymous said...

The question---Why did Whole Foods buy land next to a toxic waterway?---was the one question that the Whole Foods team did not prepare for with dismissive answers for the community.

The long pause and answer that was offered---that the decision was made by a predecessor---was a dismissive yet revealing answer. No one at Whole Foods will take responsibility for the mess that Whole Foods finds themselves in with this site! Their team at this meeting has been given the job to get the zoning plans approved—what ever that takes. They will be the predecessors to the Whole Foods team that will have to deal with the local flooding that will contain all maters of sewage debri (especially E coli with some nasty numbers after it). The successors will face the real problems. . And when the Community Board calls a meeting to ask why cars cant get up and down 3rd street, or even in and out of the store, the next Whole Foods team can answer that it is all due to decisions made by their predecessors.

Anonymous said...

if you don't drive/have car what do you care about traffic...and if you do have car/drive you'd be just part of the problem so don't complain about traffic
(and of course we heard the same horror scenarios about IKEA traffic and was just a bug bust).
Easy to find people against anything
and everything.

Margaret said...

To anon June 4, 9:57
Why are you so dismissive of traffic concerns. If you don't drive a car, you are walking, you are breathing. If Whole Foods gets the kind of car traffic they are hoping to get (they won't - in this economy people are looking for bargains, which Whole Foods is not), that will bring a whole lot more air pollution - to pedestrians, to everybody. The environmental concerns trump every time - or they should. Building in a flood zone is irresponsible; Whole Foods can't get insurance for that - state taxpayers will have to pay - why is this allowed to happen?!?) Have you seen what this site looks like in its natural state - it's a WETLANDS!!. Building next to a Superfund site (while claiming to be selling healthy foods) is dumb, dumbfounding. That CB6 Land Use OK'd this reminds me of how they OK'd Toll Bros. I read somewhere last week that the pollution on the Toll Bros. site is a lot worse than what their environmental experts claimed. But we still get the same voices in our community refuting science -and expressing themselves with the dismissive tone you have.

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled WholeFoods is coming!!! Some of you, though, seem to want Brooklyn to remain a wasteland preserving all sorts of junk. Wake up! Brooklyn has been revitalized alas! As for Ikea - it finally brought life to what seemed to be an abandoned community.

Anonymous said...

not greed. It's capitalism - growing your business. It's very fitting to have a wholefoods her in Brooklyn, and the business people in this company saw the opportunity to expand and took it.

Margaret said...

No one is against Whole Foods coming to Brooklyn. That would be a preposterous position. The site they have chosen is not suitable for reasons that have already been expressed.

Anonymous said...

Margaret, I personally don't care much. I don't shop at places like Whole Foods. And it seems difficult to imagine them making this plot any worse. However, I'm sure there are plenty of people in Brooklyn that don't want an anti-union, Obama-hating, friend of the Tea Party, promoter of Monsanto moving into their area. It's not like the folks at Whole Foods keep their opinions to themselves. They are a vocal opponent to progressive politics. To say no one is against Whole Foods moving to Brooklyn, is preposterous. People seem to really want to pay $2 for a lemon, so whatever. I'll bite my tongue. But so far as to imply I am particularly happy about Whole Foods moving to to Brooklyn? I've had my fill of politics from Texan idealogues.

Anonymous said...

People like Margaret want the Gowanus neighborhood to be a desolate wasteland. If the property was used for waste recycling, or for a hospital or a school they would object to that as well. With EPA-Superfund oversight, cleanup will be more expensive and Gowanus properties will have to be developed to a greater density or new use with more vehiclular traffic generated.

Anonymous said...

Wholefoods may be anti-union, but their employees are paid well with benefits, from what I hear. So, there's less of a need for a union perhaps in this particular company. And whether they are democrat or republican, they run a great market. For the records, I have not seen lemons on sale for $2. Their products are a bit pricier, but they are also mostly from small local farms and often organic. The land will look nicer developed by wholefoods than to remain as it is. Look, for instance what a beautiful job Ikea did in Redhook. Now we have a park & waterfront we can enjoy besides a business we all love, including Margaret, probably... Admit it M, you go to Ikea as we go to.

Margaret said...

Ouch, 3:17 - you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about people like me. Gowanus is not a desolate wasteland. Au contraire. I co-curated a show at the Brooklyn Historical Society celebrating 150 years of industry in Gowanus. That exhibit showed just how much is going on in what some may perceive as "desolate!" And your assumption that Gowanus properties will need to be developed to a greater density or new use reveals where you are coming from. Visions a la Toll Brothers, Gowanus Village, and Gowanus "Green" perchance?? Gowanus AS IS is being celebrated as one of 6 neighborhoods in the entire NYC area. It would not be being celebrated with the kinds of "greater density" visions you seem to be promoting.