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Landmarks Preservation Commission fines Whole Foods Market for slacking on spiffying up the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company building

Whole Foods lettuce down: City preservationists

Fined dining: The city is fining Whole Foods, right, for failing to fix up the Coignet building, left.
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City preservationists are slapping the just-opened Gowanus Whole Foods Market with a fine today for failing to keep up the long-abandoned historic building the high-end supermarket sits on either side of, according to a city spokeswoman.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will hit Whole Foods with a $3,000 fine for failing to maintain the dilapidated Coignet building at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street, despite a promise to fix it, according to commission spokeswoman Elisabeth DeBourbon. Locals who have been calling on the organic grocery giant to fix up the landmarked concrete-and-brick structure for years cheered the decision.

“Anytime there’s accountability, I’m going to be happy,” said Gowanus resident and musician Martin Bisi, who has documented the building’s decay, including the disappearance this week of a crumbling banister on its front steps. “Hopefully this will be enough of a deterrent where it will motivate Whole Foods to keep it up.”

A few grand is pocket change to the grocery giant, which took in $11.7-billion in revenue in 2012.

The city gave the retailer a permit on Aug. 1 to repair and restore the landmark, but that work has not yet begun, DeBourbon said.

A Whole Foods spokesman said he was not aware of a violation, though he had heard construction workers talked to the city about plans to revamp the Coignet façade.

Neighbors have accused Whole Foods of letting the Coignet building rot since the company bought the property in 2005. The loss of the right banister was only the latest in a long line of blows to the building, including the recent appearance of a large crack on its base that neighbors said was caused by construction on the supermarket.

“Every time I walk by, it just seems more dilapidated,” said Joe Mariano, a member of the activist group Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. “It’s just crumbling away.”

Whole Foods has categorically denied that it has played any part in the disintegration of the former New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company headquarters.

“I do not think that the building is in any different condition — except that it has been sitting there for 10 years,” Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra said.

Sinatra said he thinks the city’s response came as a result of locals complaining and not anything the store did, adding that the company completed work on the building’s roof last year.

The Coignet building may have been the first concrete building in the city when it was erected in 1873. It was designated a landmarked in 2006.

Updated 1:43 pm, December 20, 2013: Updated with additional comment from Michael Sinatra.
Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
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Reader Feedback

Harry from Brooklyn says:
Wow - a huge fine! How will they ever cope with that outstanding sum of 3000 dollars?? Surely this is going to grab their attention immeadiatly !
Dec. 20, 2013, 8:39 am
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
My question is where were the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus for the last 10 years? Doesn't any "Friends" organization typically raise money for such things?
Dec. 20, 2013, 8:58 am
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
Does every old building in NYC have to be preserved forever?

What's so special about this one?

Whole Food should basically be allowed to do what they wish with it.
Dec. 20, 2013, 10:02 am
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
To Phantom, my sentiments exactly.
Dec. 20, 2013, 10:40 am
ty from pps says:
I agree Jim... Why didn't these oh-so-concerned neighbors buy this building 10 or 15 years ago. I'm sure it could have become a beautiful jewel on the edge of that festering brownfield of contamination.

But now that Whole Foods has spent massive amounts of cash to improve the area -- how do these adorable concerned neighbors react? "Hey Whole Foods, you didn't spend *your* money fast enough to renovate the building we haven't ever spent a penny on over the last 50 years."
Dec. 20, 2013, 10:44 am
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Phantom, Jim, ty -- I agree.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:07 am
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
ty from pps, I couldn't have said it better.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:13 am
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
Pardon the interruption, but if the city fails to maintain all of the "old buildings in NYC" then, and forgive me for pointing this out, where will all of the "old" NYC people live? It is "hard" for me to believe you believe the city should believe these "old" people would be better off living in the streets or perhaps building a raft to live on in the Gowanus Canal, which, I might add, appears it may be a little less than clean, but that's just one man's opinion. Thank you for reading and have a lovely afternoon.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:13 am
Justin from Park Slope says:
J.W.- are you really suggesting that we let people live in that building? I think they'd be better off in the canal.

It is a great place to smoke crack….
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:22 am
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
To J.W. from Park Slope: Congratulations, you've achieved complete incoherent irrelevance with that comment.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:40 am
ty from pps says:
Oh, diehipster, how you just exude intelligence. It's a thing of beauty.
Dec. 20, 2013, 12:19 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
And what did I miss today at 11:13 when I was out at Atlantic Mall, shopping for toys to donate to the poors? An impersonation (which is a new low, Ty, if you don't mind my saying so)? A personal attack from Jim, if you will?
Obviously, not a true Wasserman above, if you'll take notice.
Anyway, having not read the article, and going only from the drawing, I will (if you don't mind) say that perhaps the house would be better suited in a diferent location, such as Prospect Park. It, indeed, looks like a great "fixer-upper" and is very charming I might add. Perhaps it would make a wonderful all year 'round Haunted House, in which the poors are allowed in for free.
Here's hoping you'll pardon the suggestion.
John Wasserman
Dec. 20, 2013, 1:30 pm
Christie from Park Slope says:
I agree with Ty re: earlier post. And if WF has to pony up funds to maintain the structure, they should bring it to code and perhaps make it a wine shop (a la trader joe's) or something else to their benefit (which will in turn benefit us all) develop the damn area and building, don't just preserve it and have it sit there dormant for another 50 or so years. Happy to have Whole Food in the neighborhood and I look forward to frequenting it.
Dec. 20, 2013, 1:34 pm
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
To John Wasserman from Prospect Heights, if someone was impersonating you then how can you be insulted by my comment?
Dec. 20, 2013, 2:14 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
Jim, if you'll "excuse" me in calling you that name, if I were to be impersonated, believe me, if you don't mind my saying so, I think I'd be the "first" to know. Which is why I'll ask that you, and the other Jim, please pardon this interruption.
Dec. 20, 2013, 2:33 pm
Joe from Carroll Gardens says:
Why not report that Whole Foods Does NOT own that property - and how the owners speculated and played a game (for profit) that failed. Why not fine the OWNERS of that corner shambles of a building - or move to take it away via other means as its adding nothing to Gowanus for decades on end? That fine is levied to The wrong people -- as Whole Foods has brought added vitality to 3rd/3rd (something not done by Landmarks or any City agency apart from DEP/flushing tunnel? Fining WF is pathetic on the part of NYC, if you look at it with any perspective.
Dec. 20, 2013, 2:33 pm
ty from pps says:
Here you go... After WF spends their money to fix up the building they don't own, you can buy it.

http://www.masseyknakal.com/listingimages/setup/pdf/360_3rd_Avenue_-_Set-Up.pdf

This is just dirty city back room dealing. "Yes, you can have permission to spend huge amounts of money remediating the land and revitalizing the area... but in return you have to pay for the neglected property you don't own. Then, after you've done that, the owner who wasn't ever fined for neglecting this property -- both before and after landmarking -- will get to sell it for a hefty profit and you'll get none of that money."

Sounds good, right? I really hope WF sues the city and a judge is able to invalidate this part of the "contract" with city.
Dec. 20, 2013, 3:43 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
Hello Jim from Carroll Gardens. John Wasserman. If you don't mind my saying so, I never indicated I was insulted. I simply asked if I had missed a "personal attack" from you (which is a reference to Tal in case you did not notice). Feel free to answer my simple question at all hours. Having to had to have said that, I thank you for congratulating me, John Wasserman-real or not.
Pardon the interruption.
Dec. 20, 2013, 5:27 pm
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
Wow.

I was unaware that Whole Foods was being asked to fix up another's property.

NY City and State make it really, really hard to do business here.

This sounds like a crime, and not by Whole Foods, either.
Dec. 20, 2013, 6:12 pm
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
To J.W.: I found your comment "... if the city fails to maintain all of the "old buildings in NYC" then, where will all of the "old" NYC people live? It is "hard" for me to believe you believe the city should believe these "old" people would be better off living in the streets or perhaps building a raft to live on in the Gowanus Canal" to be relevant to this article regarding WF's agreement with the city, or the building's owners, to renovate the Coignet building.

.And I've no idea what or who "Tal" is.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:05 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
The Coignet building was built as an office and sampler for the company's poured-concrete exterior details -- which is why it's so hodgepodgey.

I never understood its landmarkiness, regardless of who/what hired Coignet in its very brief lifetime. And locals couldn't have cared all that much if they just watched it rot for a half-century.
Dec. 20, 2013, 11:28 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect heights says:
Jim. I'm very proud of you for not knowing who this "Tal" character is. Unfortunately for me (and perhaps the viewers on this program) I, myself have "Little Wassermans" trying to copy the style of my thoughts. Luckily, they share my completey sane views on these articles of news that we all have to live through. Life is a pretty sweet fruit, if you don't mind my saying so.
Dec. 21, 2013, 12:11 am
Roberta G. Williams from Fort Greene says:
This POS building should never have been landmarked. Preservation gave to well-meaning but profoundly ill-informed 'activists' because it's easy to give away GARBAGE.

Those who actually study Brooklyn history seriously via archives, historical newspapers etc can only scoff at the naiveté on display here. Even in 2013-- almost 2014-- there's a wealth of history to recognize, preserve, restore etc.

This idiotic building is not and never was one of the SLIGHTEST importance though yes, the SITE was.

Q: How many SLAVES lived and died there?

Why not commemorate then?
Dec. 21, 2013, 12:18 am
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
I must agree with Ms Williams.
To me, too much landmarking is based on specious importance. (Coignet, for example, was more like a Cheaper Rickracks R Us showroom -- elevating concrete over stonecraft.)
Meanwhile, real human history is glosssed over.
Dec. 21, 2013, 1:39 am
old time brooklyn from slope says:
Phantom, Ty and Jim - I agree -you have to cut the landmarking off at a certain point.
Dec. 21, 2013, 11:03 am
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
The agreement to repair this building is described here as having been made between the owner of both the land and the building and WF. He sold the land, but extracted the promise to repair the building as part of that deal.

http://observer.com/2013/12/bah-humbug-crumbling-coignet-building-does-not-share-in-whole-foods-good-cheer/

But the shakedown artists of NYC government / Landmarks Commission were probably just behind the scenes.

If the old building had been torn down, as it should have been maybe 30 years ago, WF might have been able to build an even nicer building for us all, at the corner, where it would look better.
Dec. 21, 2013, 11:05 am
jay from nyc says:
its a weird thing to be sure, but I would make two points a) WF made the deal, no one forced them to do it b) if they did actually damage the building, then yes they have to pay a fine, like anyone else, but its a 140 year building that has not been kept in any kind of repair, so you want to put all of that on wf? As much as I hate WF, not sure it makes any sense to stick them with something like this.
Dec. 21, 2013, 1:58 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Whole Foods said they were going to do something, in exchange for something else, and the didn't do it. That's the entire matter. They could pay $3,000 every hour and it wouldn't make a difference because they planned this all along with a nice finance ratio, like all these companies do. Without taking away their building, or at least closing their parking lot, Whole Foods will do nothing for this important landmark. You transplants just can't imagine that your precious WF could do anything wrong can you? Keep your car-culture and imported lack of knowledge about WHY things get landmarked in the first back in flyover country.
Dec. 21, 2013, 10:43 pm
ty from pps says:
Good job, Jim. Awesome job mischaracterizing all of the comments above that are critical of this landmarking 'enforcement' action. It's really enjoyable to read how you've conflated one issue with your delightful disdain for people outside of your "real Brooklyn" family. Do you always work yourself up into a lather with these odd "connections"?

(it's not important, but since you seem to care about such things... I will probably shop at WF once a year. And I generally don't care for it as a store.)
Dec. 22, 2013, 9:53 am
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
Jim

Why is that building an " important landmark" .

It isn't important, and I doubt that most Brooklynites regard it as any sort of lamdmark.
Dec. 22, 2013, 11:06 am
Chris from Gowanus says:
Why is it landmarked? Maybe you've heard of concrete blocks, concrete foundation walls, or reinforced concrete floors?

This building is likely the earliest and best surviving example of those technologies ANYWHERE. NYC couldn't have risen (pun intended) to 20th century modern supercity status so quickly without the enterprising stone company that built this little "showroom" building.

If I recall correctly, a local demolition or construction company was taking care of the building pro bono before WF took ownership of the site. Good thing other folks in our neighborhood have been looking out for it, too.

You don't need to love or hate the building - however, it is owed some respect for being a "real" Brooklynite. It worked hard for the city and WF should be treating it well, as they promised to do. Their building wouldn't be standing up without it.
Dec. 22, 2013, 1:07 pm
Janice Inglieterri from Park Slope says:
Two separate issues: this building is idiotic and never should have been landmarked. The actual disinterest shown in it since VERY misguided 'activists' wasted their time on this issue is proof (again).

HOWEVER, Whole Foods is 100% SCUM. Check out all the DOUBLE PARKED cars on 3rd St and check out (not) the management and bums in the 78th Pct doing nothing about it.

Some "environmentally friendly" store, huh?

Jerkoffs too lazy to even park in a parking lot and the local cops doing what?
Dec. 22, 2013, 4:19 pm
Chris from Gowanus says:
Yes, Janice, the real issue here is parking.

Besides, you know what REALLY broke the Coignet building? The bike lanes. They're idiotic.

You take that parking complaint to the 78. That'll be some misguided activism and time wasting right up your alley.
Dec. 22, 2013, 6:54 pm
ty from pps says:
So, Janice, the jerkoffs that are our neighbors can't be bothered to go into the enormous parking lots... How is that Whole Foods' fault/problem?

Oh Lordy, Janice.
Dec. 22, 2013, 8:04 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
"a local demolition or construction company was taking care of the building pro bono"

... by hanging their demolition-company sign on it while the property rotted. Which is pretty much how people "have been looking out for it" for the past 50 years.
Dec. 22, 2013, 8:34 pm
Janice Inglieterri from Park Slope says:
It's NO PARKING on that part of 3rd St, thus it doesn't matter what your damn reason is-- and the damn reason if because jerks are too lazy. There's a parking lot there for a reason, schmuck.

If YOU don't like it take it up with DOT to get the parking regulation changed.

Meanwhile, so now the 78 bums just selectively enforces parking regulations?

Some of you are too dim to be allowed even on the internet.
Dec. 22, 2013, 9:35 pm
ty from pps says:
Umm... Janice. Why is this Whole Foods' fault/problem? Why does this have ANYTHING to do with them? They have provided an enormous parking lot -- but Whole Foods is "100% SCUM" for "doing nothing about it."

Right, Janice? Who is the person who is "too dim to be allowed on the internet," Janice? Hmm, Janice?

(I'm giving you a hint by repeating your name.)
Dec. 23, 2013, 9:27 am
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
That parking lot doesn't look that " enormous " to me. How many spots does it have?

Certainly not as many as we have in the great Fairway Red Hook, which I will continue to patronize.

--

I'd volunteer my services gratis to help with the demolition of that ugly sad sack non-distinctive building that mars the appearance of the useful and welcome Whole Foods building next to it.
Dec. 23, 2013, 9:48 am
TOM from Sunset Park says:
Do I remember people from away(Park Slope) who opposed a large-enough parking lot at WF? And advocated for WF funding a shuttle-bus to carry Park Slope shoppers back up the hill to home?

There oughta' be a law that proposed landmarks be "financially sustainable" without extraordinary fees on neighboring property owners or the NYC taxpayers.
Dec. 23, 2013, 2:08 pm
Brooklyn Nester from So West Gowanus says:
Fairway understood and agreed to retain (or repair) the exterior of that bldg. They didn't.
Do you really think hiring a broker, who then lists it for (re)sale at 3.0 million, is a serious effort to honor preservation?
Concessions given to WF only after assurances about the fate of this little bldg were reached.
Isn't it like buying a SRO or Rent Controlled/RS bldg? Those contracts are preexisting, and remain, even if the bldg goes into foreclosure. These agreements should also remain. How is this a debatable?
I think the fee to WF is WAAAY too low. This is a slap in the face to Brooklyn. If every developer just squirmed out of agreements in your nabe, how would you like that?
And, do you really think that small civic groups can raise $3.0 million to buy, and another ? million more, to repair this bldg? Please. Get real.
Whoever wants to reverse LPC status, go ahead. Until then, the historic designation stands. And WF should be held accountable.
This is a disgrace.
Dec. 24, 2013, 12:36 am
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
How is the fine a slap in the face of Brookyn?

This building means nothing to Brooklyn people. Tear it down this week, as a Christmas present to Brooklyn.
Dec. 24, 2013, 9:42 am
Bob Procida from Carroll Gardens says:
STOP THE HATE!!!!
Knock it down.
Dec. 24, 2013, 10:28 am
Brooklyn Nester from So West Gowanus says:
Read my note, esp the bit about not honoring contracts.
WF skipped out on their commitment. Their construction further damaged this little building. They then put this building (now more of a ruin) on the market for sale @ waaay over fair market price.
THEY break their word to LPC, to DOB, and to the community, and that's ok w/ you?
Then I suppose you will not scream when other developers do likewise, right?
There are strong parallels to other projects; but it's the developer's MO.
They change the subject when convenient.
Either unlandmark the property or have WF honor their agreement(s) and repair it. A $3,000 fee is hardly a punitive amount to them; it's a joke to a company that size.
THAT is how it's a slap in the face. Or, did you miss that part?
From previous note above: "Isn't it like buying a SRO or Rent Controlled/RS bldg? Those contracts are preexisting, and remain, even if the bldg goes into foreclosure. These agreements should also remain. How is this debatable? "
Along the same lines FCR-Ratner promised, got their building permits, then removed their commitments one by one. This included the expected union jobs from the Arena and the Atlantic Yards. This isn't really all that different; promise anything to get the permits, then deliver... zip-o.
When companies change their commitments AFTER being granted permits predicated upon those promises, the entire project should be shut down, not renegotiated selectively.
And, per above, when other people do speak up in favor of having this little building repaired, for ex, they get dismissed with 'throw away' comments that they should raise the money and repair that building. $3.0 million is a lot of money to raise, my friend. And for a group of concerned citizens to come up with that $$? Which, also, does nothing to repair it. So, really, essentially, this dismissive attitude is having their viewpoint "silenced".
WF choked out what was a gem of a building. At a $3.0 million sale price, and with no incentive to repair it ($3,000 fine, put.leez), it WILL fall down.
So they get plausible deniability, ("we TRIED to sell it, your honor"), and therefore, they win, right?
But look at the bigger picture.
Either take it a step further-- and stand up for this LPC (former) gem of a building, or don't complain
when your grandmother (or your loved one) gets forced out of their nabe by unscrupulous developers, or when a hi-rise assemblage surrounds your little town house, or any number of other issues arise.
Because you're obviously cool with it.
It's not just this building, albeit it WAS beautiful, it's the point.
Sometimes contracts SHOULD be enforced, not renegotiated as they go along. Pull their dam* permit, or withhold the C of O for WF, until they complete the work they committed to the community.

Have a Happy New Year, everyone!
Dec. 24, 2013, 2:42 pm
Phantom from Bay Ridge says:
WF has added to the quality of life / food choice of the local area and all nearby neighborhoods.

The rotten city govt should pay WF $8000 and knock that dump down today.

Thank me very much
Dec. 24, 2013, 3:08 pm
Jim from Carroll Gardens says:
What Phantom said.
Dec. 24, 2013, 4:17 pm

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