Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gowanus Whole Foods Calendared For Board Of Standards And Appeals Hearing

Here is the latest  news on the long-delayed Gowanus Whole Foods.
Whole Foods has been calendared for a hearing at the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals on TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, concerning their request for a use variance  (§72-21) to permit a food store (UG6), contrary to use regulations in an M2-1 zoning district, at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street on the Gowanus Canal. 

Currently, New York City's Zoning Resolution only allows Whole Foods to build a 10,000s.f. store on the site, which is located in an  M2-1 zoning district.  The proposed Gowanus store would be 56,000 s.f.

In applying for a variance, Whole Foods is claiming that full compliance with zoning regulations is not possible in order to realize a reasonable economic return on their property. The Board Of Standards And Appeals "must determine, in granting a variance, that each and every one of five findings identified in Section 72-21 are met.  The five findings are excerpted from the Zoning Resolution below:

(a) that there are unique physical conditions …. inherent in the particular zoning lot; and that, as a result of such unique physical conditions, practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship arise;

(b) that because of such physical conditions there is no reasonable possibility that the development of the zoning lot will bring a reasonable return … this finding shall not be required for the granting of a variance to a non-profit organization;
(c) that the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood;
(d) that the practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship claimed as a ground for a variance have not been created by the owner;
(e)  …the variance, if granted, is the minimum variance necessary to afford relief.

It will be fascinating to see how the BSA will rule on this matter. The validity of Whole Foods' claims of hardship seven years after assembling a building site by purchase and lease of several properties in a zoning district unsuitable for their purposes, are tenuous at best. Whole Foods also:
* willingly purchased the polluted site in a dense industrial area
*next to a polluted canal into which human waste is discharged every time it rains heavily
*which lies in the 100 year flood plain and is therefore prone to flooding
*has a high water table
*has substantial grade changes across the lot
and most importantly...
*does not, by law, allow for Whole Foods' intended use.

Written testimony by members of the community on this matter can be submitted to the BSA until December 9.
Please address to: Chair of the BSA, Meenakshi Srinivasan. 
The letters may be submitted via regular mail to: 
40 Rector Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10006
or emailed you letter to the executive director at


Anonymous said...

Both the Community Board and the Land Use Committee voted to approve this.

Katia said...

Yes, they did.
And as the Community Board is always quick to note, it is only advisory.
CB6 voted test to Whole Foods Gowanus without ever mentioning/proving the 5 finding necessary to get a variance.
Follow this link for more:

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this right: when the CB wants something, they vote for it, but you point out that they are only advisory, but when they don't want it (bar on Sackett and Henry), they vote no and you're silent?


Anonymous said...

Technically A foodstore or supermarket is an as-of-right use for a M2-1 zone. This is not what the BSA application is for.

Section 42-12 allows it, but this is also where the 10k square foot limit is set for foodstores. This is what the variance would be for...

Also, I believe that they deserve some kind of variance. If the environmental cleanup of a site like this isn't economic hardship, and the kind of thing we want to encourage developers to do, I don't know what is.

Katia said...

I am merely pointing out that there are very specific points that the BSA has to take into consideration when granting a variance. The burden of proof is on Whole Foods, something that CB6 obviously did not grasp when they discussed and voted on the issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious what people who are opposed to Whole Foods going in there would rather see on that corner....

Anonymous said...

The people supporting a store-- that, among other things, will draw 8,000-11,000 additional car trips per day to this area – don't understand what they are embracing here.

And can anyone sincerely claim that the CB6 vote wasn't whole contrived and rammed through the system to ensure that the community would not have be able to question what is going on with this proposal. Why did that vote need to take place on such very short notice, six months prior to this BSA hearing? CB6 members were not even permitted the opportunity to discuss and understand the proposal before taking that vote.

Margaret said...

@ anon 4:53 I would like to see the a wetlands restoration park at the Whole Foods site. It would benefit the community as a drainage. That's what wetlands are good for, and too much of it is being paved over. The site is on flood plain for God's sake. And do you really want to go shopping for "healthy whole foods" next to an open sewer? Which is what Gowanus will remain, even after EPA cleanup. Because the CSO's will still be going into the canal. Whole Foods was part of a grand scheme that included Gowanus Village and Toll Bros. at a time when there was grand denial of the environmental realities there. Yes, the EPA will take care of certain toxic aspects, but unless the City does an overhaul to the sewage pipes that eliminate CSO's - which ain't gonna happen - there is going to be sewage in that canal.

Michael Brown said...

@anon 9:06 -

The community WAS given a chance to speak out, but NO ONE did. All they cared about was tomatoes and wetlands. No one wanted to discuss the variance factors. That is a failure not by Whole Foods, but by the lack of community care and turnout. Or maybe most people just aren't opposed.

@Margaret -

That is fine, and possible, we just have to come up with a way to pay Whole Foods for the market value of the property. Ideas?

Anonymous said...

Friends of Brooklyn, chill out. Whole Foods is good for the spot, Brooklyn, and for most of us. Their engineers will have to address the flood issue, don't lose sleep over it. They will bring good jobs to our people and an enjoyable market place for the rest of us. Sometimes, I wonder if some of you forgot the ills of Brooklyn....

Anonymous said...

@Michael Brown - I went to the CB6 meetings and was appalled by the lack of discussion about the issue. The Land Use Committee is lame as far as knowing what's what. I saw it, in person. Pathetic. Sad. Even when Land Use Committee members started to bring up issues, it went nowhere with the group. Appalling. Please don't think that their vote reflects what all want - because there were many of us who expressed our concerns and it went in one ear and out the other. Kind of like how Toll Bros. got what they wanted, too.

Anonymous said...

Margaret responding to Michael - for donating land to create a wetlands restoration, Whole Foods could get tax breaks, a good name, and a graceful exit from a plot of land they should never have considered in the first place. Their image just does not jibe with the environmental realities of that land.

OM said...

re: 3:41 forget the ills of Brooklyn - cryptic to me. what are you talking about 3:41? I like my nabe just fine! And I don't like the massive overpriced Whole Foods plan.

Anonymous said...

That site is never going to sit empty, and as someone who actually lives in the Gowanus area, I have to say I'd rather have a Whole Foods in that spot rather than some other big box store.

I wonder if there was an outcry when the Pathmark went in, right on the canal. I'm guessing not since low-income people shop there....

Anonymous said...


This is a man made industrial canal. The naturally occuring wetlands have been gone for 100 years. The only wetlands there now are the resut of water infiltrating the deteriorated bulk heads. This is not sustainable, as the bulk heads will eventually collapse into the canal. Unless you favor returning the canal to it original form ( as a natural stream) the bulk heads have to be maintained, and the wet lands will not effectively filter runoff. Naturally occuring wetlands can not effectivly filter the heavy levels of oils and pollution that occur in this enviornment,the soils in the wetlands bordering the canal will eventaully become saturated with oils have to be dug up and trucked to land fill .

The only way that the the CSO and run off is going to addressed is by responsible development that includes seperating storm water from sanitary wastes, and minimizes the amount of oil and pollution on the streets surrounding the canal.

In the hunt for a responsible developer, whole foods is about as good as you can hope for. They are accountable. They have money that they are willing to spend on environmental issues. They want to do the right thing.

Fianlly the concept of an additional 11,000 car trips a day is ludicrous. Thats 77,000 per week. I know that at their upper west side store (one of the busiest they have) whoe foods 40,000 rings a week. Even assuming that no one comes by foot, bike or public transport. 11,000 a day is almost double. Where did they come up with this number ? Typical fear mongering.


elise said...

Whole Foods has no business being next to a toxic superfund site. The EPA managament team for the Gowanus Superfund may have other plans for the 4th Street basin next to the Whole Foods site. Therefore, this kind of irrational, unhealthy, resisting reality development has no business at this site at this time.

Anonymous said...

Peter, about the wetlands issue - not to make this a tedious discussion, all one had to was see what the site looked like when it was left in its current "natural" state - huge pools of water throughout, and wetlands vegetation. As far as Whole Foods being responsible developers - their first idea was to submerge half the store below ground (in this marshy-looking land, in order to get the square footage they wanted without getting the variance they are now seeking) and protect it with a membrane - so many issues with that. That land, the nature of it, its location, ongoing environmental issues are all negatives for this proposed project that should NOT happen.

Anonymous said...

1:50 - Pathmark did not need a variance. Saying that only low-income people shop there is very elitist.

Katia said...

Well, I was at Path Mark yesterday. Considering that I probably won't be able to afford Whole Food Prices, I will continue to shop with the rest of those 'low-income' folks.

Anonymous said...

I live close to Pathmark and shop there regularly, which is why I know that a vast majority of the people who shop there are lower income. I am not saying Whole Foods is for everyone, but It would be nice to augment my Parhmark shopping with better quality meat, etc (instead of having to go to Carroll Gardens or Park Slope).

And it is next to an "open sewer", which was a previous poster's point.

Anonymous said...

Wholefoods offers products that pathmark does not, such as a wide variety of locally grown produce and organic products, particularly meets. Most other markets have limited supply on these. I actually find some great deals at wholefoods. When I mentioned the ills of Brooklyn, I was referring to the ugly past. I am a life long resident also, and love Brooklyn, but particularly appreciate the cleanup it has gone through, sometimes due to development. Before, I anger you, I am not in favor of development. But keep in mind that the brownstones were also a development of the past. Some of you seem so uptight about anything new coming this way.

Margaret said...

2:26 - support local butchers if you want a better quality of meat. Los Paisanos is WAY BETTER than anything you can get at Whole Foods. The big national/international stores, like Whole Foods, do NOTHING to support local industry. The jobs they create are not necessarily local - take a poll of Ikea and see how many workers there are actually local - I did once. I LOVE Los Paisanos and the personable treatment I get there. You won't get that at Whole Foods, either. That is what is GREAT about Brooklyn - how there are still smaller, local stores, like your baker, your butcher, your Italian Specialities, the smoked fish store Katia featured earlier today, etc. Whole Foods is a zoo - I work near the 14th Street store and I avoid it at all costs.

Anonymous said...

about "Some of you seem so uptight about anything new coming this way." I am delighted by much adaptive re-use gong on in the neighborhood. Special effects, sound studios, all kinds of artisinal endeavors - so please don't take this blanket line of commenting to try to dismiss valid concerns about the inappropriateness of the Whole Foods project.