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City blocks Whole Foods until (get this) the grocer proves it won’t mess up the Gowanus

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A city panel has denied Whole Foods permission to build on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, and demanded that the green grocer return with more evidence that its mega-store would not harm the environment.

The Board of Standards and Appeals on Dec. 13 refused to grant Whole Foods the zoning variance it needs to build its 56,000-square-foot store at Third Avenue and Third Street after critics argued that the superstore would bring 5,880 cars to the neighborhood each Saturday and interfere with an ongoing federal Superfund clean-up of the fetid waterway.

“[A Whole Foods store] must be compatible with the Superfund clean-up process,” opponents testified in a letter. “Failure [to do so] could prolong the impact of the clean-up on existing businesses and neighbors.”

Other opponents focused on all those cars.

“It’s a concern,” said Eric McClure, the president of Park Slope Neighbors.

The latest design for the store does feature a 250-space parking lot designed to absorb storm water that would otherwise wind up in the fetid waterway. And the current proposal is smaller than the original 68,000-square-foot plan with a 420-car lot.

That plan was delayed because the company needed to first remove the site’s contaminated soil.

Supporters blamed the city for stalling the project, which they say would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope.

“The Whole Foods is going to be a plus,” said Buddy Scotto. “Now the city is holding it back.”

Board of Standards and Appeals attorney Becca Kelly said that Whole Foods would return on Jan. 24 to present more information. Approval may be granted at that time.

As such, company spokesman Michael Sinatra downplayed the board’s delay, claiming that multiple hearings are normal for large developments.

“The first hearing is the start of a process,” Sinatra said. “We’re keeping the environment in mind and we’re obviously very aware of the canal we’re building next to.”

Sinatra said Whole Foods still plans to open the store in early 2013.

Updated 12:44 pm, December 19, 2011: Story was updated to emphasize that the process is ongoing.
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Reader Feedback

Resident from PPW says:
Wow, it is nice to see that NYC encourages large businesses to set up shop and create jobs. What is next for Whole Foods, mayoral groupie Quinn will demand that everyone earn double the minimum wage?
Dec. 19, 2011, 4:58 am
Frank from Cobble Hill says:
Looking forward to having Whole Paycheck open up next to the open sewer. It should help clear out what's left of the working class from the neighborhood. And the projects can supply some cheap disposable labor to serve us.
Dec. 19, 2011, 7:32 am
ty from pps says:
This is CLEARLY just play acting... if they didn't make a stink about Whole Foods, they wouldn't be able to give Walmart a hard time. It's just political posturing and it has nothing to do with Whole Foods or the Gowanus.

Yes -- I am deeply suspicious and have very little respect for the ethics of our local politicians.
Dec. 19, 2011, 8:37 am
Jet Jones from Park Slope says:
@Frank. Neighborhoods change. Get over it.
Dec. 19, 2011, 8:52 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
@Jet Jones: Water is wet. The sky is blue. And people will respond to politics--maybe it is you who needs to get over it. Telling people "change happens" when they are expressing their opposition is a bromide--completely zero value and meaning meant only to sedate and not to engage dialogue or critical thinking.

Thank you, Frank from Cobble Hill for "not getting over it." Please, Frank, "don't get over it." See? Meaningless drivel meant to scorn those you disagree with, but not to express any genuine thought.

Back to you, Frank: wouldn't something like this be better for the Gowanus Canal?
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/nyregion/bloomberg-is-said-to-pick-cornell-for-science-school.html

A university could enclose a supermarket, have one on its campus, so a university would not preclude Whole Foods--indeed, it may even entice Whole Foods, and is a better source of revenue and labor for the entire community.

See? I was able to engage Frank without disrespecting him or his intelligence. You should try that, Jet Jones. It may help your character development.
Dec. 19, 2011, 10:13 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Just to be clear, it's not "change happening" that's important. That's true of every single moment of time in the past 14 billion years of our cosmos' history. What is important is HOW "change happens."
Dec. 19, 2011, 10:16 am
MFS from gpt says:
Regardless of whether or not you want this to happen, it's worth noting that the article interprets what happened incorrectly. The BSA almost never rules at its first hearing. Just because they asked for follow up information from the lawyers for Whole Foods doesn't mean they are not getting their variance. That is standard practice.
Dec. 19, 2011, 10:33 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
@MFS from gpt--That makes sense. Local Orwell, ahem, I mean, local media doesn't always have the ins and outs of local kafka, ahem, local government. But this is aberrant for Daniel Bush, no? I've thoroughly enjoyed and felt informed by his previous works.
Dec. 19, 2011, 11:45 am
trans alt from my bike says:
Forget the Gowanus, Whole Foods should only be allowed to open if there is no parking spaces for cars. Why should residents suffer from increased pollution, and more deaths from psychotic drivers?

The last thing we need is more fat lazy slobs from outer Brooklyn speeding through the neighborhood.
Dec. 19, 2011, 12:15 pm
jonb from red hook says:
so thanks to Ikea and Fairway, red hook gets 45,000 every weekend but precious park slope can't cope with a lousy 5,400
Dec. 19, 2011, 12:19 pm
Who care from Gowanus says:
I can't wait for the whole foods to open. I don't understand why people get so worked up about a Super Market opening on an empty lot.
Dec. 19, 2011, 12:39 pm
UmadBro? from wat says:
@Jnob.

I don't think its going to increase traffic all that much in park slope. Infact I think most people in park slope would be in favor of it opening. Traffic going to the new stadium is going to be worse for park slope than the whole foods traffic.
Dec. 19, 2011, 12:41 pm
trans alt from my bike says:
@jnob: Ikea and Fairway should never have been allowed to open with parking either. That was a disgrace, as your post points out.

Park Slope, Red Hook, and the rest of NYC are all precious enough to ban cars from.
Dec. 19, 2011, 1:07 pm
Who from What? says:
Not the best reporting here. The BSA typically requires multiple hearings. So the BSA requested additional information and all of a sudden the case is in jeopardy? It would be nice if we had some details or commentary on the what will happen in January. My guess is it will be approved.
Dec. 19, 2011, 1:35 pm
Judahspechal from Bedstuy says:
It's beyond me why anyone would attempt to build anything in, next to Park Slope. Too many people to please
Dec. 19, 2011, 3:13 pm
Snark from Columbia Street says:
Horrifying reporting job from our friends at Brooklyn Paper. What alternatives have been proposed for this site? How is it better to leave it as an empty lot? Boo hoo traffic in Red Hook booooo hoooooo.
Dec. 19, 2011, 3:45 pm
Boo Boo from Borough Park says:
I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of Whole Foods, if not in Gowanus, then in any of the many other Brooklyn neighborhoods that will welcome them with open arms.

How many of the above posters are shilling for Fairway Red Hook, a store where customer service is a foreign language?
Dec. 19, 2011, 5:43 pm
Jared from Boerum Hill says:
It's amazing that some regulatory pantloads can block sorely needed development in a desolate area of the city.
Dec. 20, 2011, 9:27 am
Waterbirds from Gowanus Bay says:
TO: Snark from Columbia Street who asks: What alternatives have been proposed for this site?

Nature already has an alternative plan, to take back the site with raising sea-level.
Whole Foods is opposing nature's plan for the site in claiming that the impending raising sea-level as their legal "hardship" claim before the Board of Standards and Appeal. Whole Foods is looking for a give-back from the city in order to combat nature's plans for the site.
Dec. 20, 2011, 10:27 am
Waterbirds from Gowanus Bay says:
Jared from Boerum, please look around our Brooklyn communities before you dismiss Gowanus.
Gowanus Brooklyn is booming with authentic real life, vibrant energy in arts, industrial arts, and manufacturing. Why would anyone want to make this special place into the likes of any other retail district that you can find along the highway strip cultures of the suburbs? Gowanus is not the place for a big box store like the proposed regional Whole Foods Store.
Dec. 20, 2011, 10:37 am
JonB from Red Hook says:
Sure, big box stores are fine for Red Hook and Sunset Park, but not Gowanus?? Why, because you have more white, fartsy dude?? pleaassee
Dec. 20, 2011, 10:44 am
Joe from Bay Ridge says:
So, ty, and the rest...quit complaining in a newspaper blog and get involved! Ty, run for office or serve on the community board. You don't have to be appointed, you can volunteer.

Complaining is easy, and pointless. Get to work.
Dec. 20, 2011, 11:50 am
What.asparagus? from Gowanus says:
Whole Foods wants to change the legal as-of-right zoning from Manufacturing and rezone to build a commercial store on the site. The Gowanus neighborhood will continue to support industrial uses only if it REMAINS INDUSTRIAL. Whole Foods is in an INDUSTRIAL BUSINESS ZONE and industry does still exist and is growing. This is not about your shopping or driving habits - its about maintaining industrial production and the long term economic health of NYC.
Dec. 20, 2011, 11:58 am
Soggy bread from the shore says:
You report: "The latest design for the store does feature a 250-space parking lot designed to absorb storm water that would otherwise wind up in the fetid waterway."

The land becomes a pond with any level of rainfall. Just how will the paved parking lot transfer any rain to the saturated soil below it. The site is just above sea-level. It seems imposable that the parking surface will not be sending far more runoff into the canal than the existing site ever had.
Dec. 20, 2011, 5:57 pm
Bengee from Coney says:
I guess they haven't greased enough palms yet what else could be holding up the building of this store.With all the —— it's just a matter of time.
Dec. 21, 2011, 5:20 am
tunabeard from Staten Island says:
Here's an idea...how about you open one on Staten Island?
Dec. 28, 2011, 2:17 am
Yea buddy from Nowherenearbrooklyn says:
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!
Dec. 30, 2011, 7:20 am
Do Something Good from Gowanus says:
Don't know why it's so hard to get good things to happen around here.

If Red Hook can get Fairway, we should be able to get Whole Foods. Such would be a perfect location to serve the neighborhoods of BOCOCA, Gowanus, Park Slope and Sunset Park, all without traffic impact on anyone.

And don't let them fill the basin as it would be an asset to the store and the neighborhood. Look how nice the water complements Lowes and Fairway. See what a waste Home Depo on Hamilton has made of their waterfront resource - let's not let that happen again.
Feb. 12, 2012, 8:36 pm
Michael saccio from Staten island says:
Typical political agenda. I wish it would open. Whole foods represents healthy living. Time to clean up the cespools our bodies have become. Transform ourselves into a healthy journey of cleaning out the sludge we have become. Whole food equals organic fruits and vegitables. They support local farmers. The nerve of our politicians. They want to open up next to a sewer and you give them a hard time "shame on you". Let our people get healthy we need to, after all we must get ready for the new revolution.
Feb. 20, 2012, 11:03 am

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