Whole lotta history

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The road to the first Brooklyn Whole Foods has been long, contentious, and smelly. Hop into our way-back machine and relive the eight-year saga leading up to the grand opening of the gourmet grocer’s White-House-sized store on Dec. 17.

2005: Whole Foods announces that it will open its first Brooklyn location at 360 Third Ave. near Third Street, a site that had been poisoned over the course of two centuries by the waste of a lumberyard, an auto repair shop, and an oil company. The plan is to open in 2008.

December 2006: An engineer tells state officials that dangerously high levels of the carcinogen benzene have seeped into the soil below the Third Avenue site from a nearby parking lot and fuel station on First Street owned by Verizon.

January 2007: A Verizon spokesman says the death cloud did not come from the company’s lot. Whole Foods says it will offer home delivery to reduce customer traffic, which will reach about 1,500 cars per day according to its estimates.

October 2008: The food retailer announces that it cannot develop the store on the Gowanus Canal zone site without an outside developer amidst rumors that it is giving up on the project entirely.

February 2009: Whole Foods submits an environmental application to build a three-level, 414-car garage on some wetlands, to the dismay of environmentalist neighbors from nearby Park Slope.

July 2009: A Whole Foods spokeswoman tells The Brooklyn Paper that the company has abandoned the project, then another spokeswoman doubles down on the company’s commitment the next week.

February 2010: The site clean-up begins as part of the city’s brownfield program, which offers tax incentives to landowners for investing in polluted lots and unwanted property.

November 2010: Whole Foods cuts the parking garage’s car count to 248-in response to concerns from residents including the group Park Slope Neighbors, which blasted the original design as a “totally suburban model.” Reps also reveal plans to build a massive greenhouse on the store’s roof.

December 2010: Whole Foods says it is still not sure if it will open an actual store due to the toxicity of the nearby Gowanus Canal.

June 2011: Community Board 6 recommends the food retailer’s zoning variance to the city.

December 2011: The city denies the grocer’s zoning bid, saying it has to first prove it will not mess up the foul and now-Superfund-designated Gowanus Canal.

January 2012: Bohemians and industrialists unite to launch an 11th hour attack against the grocery giant, urging the city to reject Whole Foods’ second try at city approval, saying it will destroy the neighborhood’s artisanal mix.

February 2012: Whole Foods gets the city’s unanimous okay to begin construction as early as April, despite the fact that the building plan is five times larger than zoning regulations allow.

July 2012: Construction begins, at long last.

October 2013: Whole Foods says it will add a rooftop bar with the less-than-imaginative name “The Roof,” which will offer 16 brews and “gastro-pub” food options.It is the end of an era of uncertainty. But what is next? Will kale chips prove to be the secret to soaking up the toxins from the neighborhood soil? Will Slopers abandon the Park Slope Food Co-Op in droves? Will sea level rise make the canal swallow Whole Foods whole? Find out next time on “As the Gowanus Turns.”

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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