Supermarket sweep! City panel unanimously approves Whole Foods plan

UPDATED: Whole Foods is coming!
Courtesy of Whole Foods

Whole Foods has the green light to sell organic produce and fancy cheese on the shore of the Gowanus Canal — and the posh grocer says it could begin construction on its first Brooklyn outpost as early as April.

The Board of Standards and Appeals unanimously approved the supermarket giant’s proposal to build a White House-sized megastore at Third Avenue and Third Street on Tuesday, granting the greenest of greengrocers special permission to skirt zoning rules.

Whole Foods has permission to build a 58,000 square-foot shop on a space slated for less than one fifth of that, because the panel determined the site is “burdened by unique conditions.”

The planned Whole Foods is scheduled to open in early 2013 and is expected to be a hit among the borough’s kombucha set, potentially drawing as many as 5,880 cars to its lot on Saturdays, according to the grocer’s projections.

But the arrival of the supermarket means trouble for artists and small business owners who say “upscale retail” will cause rent to increase and art-centric businesses to migrate.

It also upsets some residents who say the store caters more to drivers from outside the area than the neighborhood itself.

“It’s frustrating,” said Katia Kelly, who lives nearby. “It opens the flood gates for more developers with plans for huge buildings.”

Others claimed the panel didn’t do its “due diligence” when studying how the massive shop would impact the neighborhood.

“They didn’t take our comments seriously,” said Marlene Donnelly of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, a neighborhood group. “It’s surprising.”

The long-delayed supermarket — which first announced plans to open seven years ago — has had multiple set-backs including a lengthy delay spent cleaning its toxic lot alongside the fetid Gowanus Canal.

Facing criticism from neighbors about its scale and impact on traffic, the store cut back the size of its initial proposal by 10,000 square feet, chopped over 150 parking spaces, and announced plans to build a greenhouse on its roof to appease locavores.

On Tuesday, the panel considered whether the shop “alters the essential character of the neighborhood” — but members of the board did not comment on the reason they approved the supermarket before or after the vote.

The decision pleases Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra, who said Whole Foods will apply for building permits during the next few weeks and could start constructing the supermarket this spring.

“We’re really excited,” he said. “This was an important hurdle.”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.