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Whole Foods lettuce down: City preservationists

Old and new: The 140-year-old former New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company headquarters stands next to the about-to-open Gowanus Whole Foods Market.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.

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