Walled off! Advocates urge city to block land grab by ‘Walmart’ developer

Pols play ‘Stall-mart’ to keep retail giant from Brooklyn
Photo by Paul Sakuma

Residents and out-of-town union advocates urged the city not to sell land to a developer because when lied in its promise to bring a unionized supermarket to the planned Gateway II Plaza shopping center.

The developer of the proposed site, Related Companies, arranged to purchase a 26-acre plot off the Belt Parkway and Erskine Street from the city for $35 million to build retail shops, parkland and housing.

Related also reached a deal with the state to acquire 14 acres near Gateway Drive and Vandalia Avenue.

That sale of the city land is awaiting mayoral approval — and opponents stormed a hearing about the sale last week, telling Bloomberg Administration reps that the city shouldn’t deal with Related unless the developer re-commits to not bringing in Walmart.

“We had a verbal agreement with them that they would lease to a union shop and not to Walmart,” said Councilman Charles Barron (D–East New York), a Walmart opponent. “This is about not allowing a company to lie to us.”

Related attorney Jesse Masyr declined to comment about Barron’s assertion.

About 10 other residents also blasted Walmart at the hearing.

“I do not want a Walmart in my community,” said Carmen Deriel, who lives near the proposed big-box store. “I have many friends in the communities with small businesses, and if Walmart opens, they will be destroyed. Don’t make our community any poorer than it is.”

Other Walmart opponents, including Josh Kellerman of the Manhattan-based Jobs for Justice, tried to sway the city against Related by talking money. He argued that the land is worth much more than the city is charging Related, and should be reappraised to allow for an even larger retail center.

“Rather than look at all scenarios allowed under the zoning, it only looked at one scenario suggested by Related,” Kellerman said.

City officials insist that the appraisal is accurate. And they disputed accusations that Walmart treats workers poorly and shuts down mom-and-pops — arguments that have been used repeatedly since the retail Goliath began eyeing Brooklyn last year. For instance, Walmart released a report earlier this year that its New York employees earn about $3,000 more per year than most Brooklyn grocery store workers.

“Walmart creates quality jobs that are as good, if not better, than the majority of businesses we compete with,” said Walmart spokesman, Steven Restivo, adding that Walmart does offer benefits including a health care plan that costs workers as low as $11 per pay period.

And the area where Walmart would set up shop has already been overtaken by mega-chains, including Home Depot, Best Buy and Target, which, like Walmart, are non-union.

“A majority of national retail is non-union,” Restivo said. “When you look at retail and what we offer employees, we’re very competitive to both full-time and part-time workers.”

But four speakers, including a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and one East New York resident, supported the project, asking the city to ignore the Walmart issue because Related plans to construct more than 2,000 “affordable” apartments on the site, a positive addition that would overshadow Walmart.

“I know there are aspects of this plan that are controversial, but the neighborhood needs this affordable housing,” said local Linda Boyce.

There is no set timeline for the city to deliver its decision regarding the land-transfer, but officials said they would “consider” the testimony from Tuesday’s hearing in its ruling, though there is no telling how much weight they’ll give the speeches.