Critics Fight Whole Foods as BSA Decision Looms


Crain’s has a story about the opposition to Whole Foods’ plans to build a supermarket at 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue that covers the by-now-familiar criticisms from some in the neighborhood that the store would harm area artists and small businesses. An example: “Some residents and small businesses would like to keep the vacant lot, nestled between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, zoned for small- and medium-scale manufacturing—a dwindling asset they want to protect. A recent report by the Gowanus Institute claims the site could be developed to create three times the 300 retail jobs Whole Foods promises.” There’s also a quote from someone who says that if the Board of Standards and Appeals decides to grant Whole Foods a variance to build a store on the property larger than zoning allows—the BSA is supposed to announce its decision before the month is out—it could open “the floodgates” to other “retail and residential developers looking to take bites out of the industrial neighborhood.” OK, but what do you think?

Gowanus Locals Wage Final Whole Foods Fight [Crain's]

45 Comment

  • I am probably more concerned about gentrification than most but I don’t really understand why folks are so concerned about keeping this lot vacant. Aside from the Old Can Factory, the neighbors surrounding this lot are:

    -a new Storage Deluxe
    -a ConEd facility & fleet lot
    -a Verizon fleet lot
    -uHaul storage facility

    I don’t think I’ve heard a single complaint about the new Storage Deluxe going in a block from the existing Extra Space storage and three blocks from uHaul. I haven’t heard anyone lamenting that the area is filling up with Holiday Inn and Super 8 either. I’d much rather have a Whole Foods than any of that, and it’s going to provide more jobs too.

  • The reason this big lot is vacant in the first place is because of the decline of small- and medium-scale manufacturing in NYC. Whole Foods will bring jobs (and as hainspoint mentioned, more jobs than the other businesses opening up in this area) and — no small thing — quality produce and other groceries to the area. Seems like a win-win to me.

  • Brenda from Flatbush

    If only they could bring in a great supermarket with good prices–like Stop’n'Shop–for those of us who can’t afford Whole Foods. Aren’t we still in a recession? Isn’t joblessness still 10%? So why does it always have to be “luxury” everything? Can the 1% really support a giant supermarket? FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US!

  • Let me preface this by saying I don’t shop at Whole Foods. It’s too expensive, and most of it is just fancy packaging for over-hyped goods. It’s not called “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. But that’s just my opinion.

    That said, I don’t have a problem with one being here, if they’ll ever build it. We’ve seen rocket ships to Mars get developed and built faster than this project. I thought it was a done deal years ago. I think the idea that the site should be reserved for other small businesses is a tad idealistic and unrealistic. Cleaning the site, and developing anything here is going to take big bucks, and unfortunately for smaller businesses, it’s going to take some form of a big box entity to do it. At least WF will have a steady customer base up the hill.

    Either let them do it, or let it go. The longer it takes, the more expensive it will be, with lawsuits, studies, referendums, etc, That $5 head of organic lettuce, grown on the roof, is looking like a $7 head of organic lettuce by the time they open, if they open.

  • Brenda there is a huge Pathmark only a few blocks away

  • But every coffee shop, wine bar, and tapas restaurant in the area is fine. Please, stop with this ‘the neighborhood wants this or that’, and recognize that you are not getting the full picture, you are getting what a very small group of activists want.

    We should not be in the business of deciding what businesses are acceptable on a lot-by-lot basis; let them build and try it out and if they fail then someone else gets a shot. As of now the lot is a total waste, literally a void where there should be commercial activity that benefits the economy in many ways.

    • we shouldn’t decide what businesses are acceptable but we should reject business that manipulate the system to their advantage and build above and beyond what is allowable in the rest of the neighborhood. Whole Foods wants special treatment to build something much bigger then the area is zoned for.

  • Food shopping is a huge problem in Brooklyn. I don’t know how much this Whole Foods will help that; as MM points out, it has its drawbacks. I go to Fairway @ 72nd Street because I can also hit up TJs and Citarella. A shame that the Fairway in Brooklyn is a real schlep without a car. Faster to take the 2/3 to Manhattan. Someone should take over one of the existing supermarkets and make it clean and decent. It would be a rousing success.

  • Why are people always so opposed to a company that will add hundreds of new jobs in the area? Yes, I get the whole concept of the danger to “small mom and pop” shops but am I just being naive in thinking that a megalithic chain store would add more jobs than it displaces?

  • Gowanus is a VOID. There’s just no other way to put it. I have lived nearby for 6 years now and all I see is a gray, desolate no-man’s-land separating Park Slope and Boerum Hill. The canal is filthy, the warehouses dingy….why would ANYONE in their right mind fight a project that will not only bring a quality food shopping option to local residents, but also visually and economically revitalize this dormant area? I could see it they were trying to wedge this into brownstone Brooklyn, but no: WHOLE FOODS IS TRYING TO BRING SOMETHING REALLY NICE TO GOWANUS. That should be the end of the discussion, as far as I’m concerned.

  • STOP TRYING TO STOP THIS PROJECT!!

    This just shows the worst of the knee jerk NIMBY mentality that exists all over Brownstone Brooklyn. Just shut up and let this long delayed project get started!

  • STOP TRYING TO STOP THIS PROJECT!!

    This just shows the worst of the knee jerk NIMBY mentality that exists all over Brownstone Brooklyn. Just shut up and let this long delayed project get started!

  • brownstoneshalfoff

    “Whole Paycheck”

    LMAO!

    Yes, build this motherfucker!

    ***Half Peak Comps Euroding***

  • Art Salt

    would Whole Foods have “walkers” like the Park Slope Food Coop? Sometimes I don’t want to give up a good on-street parking space to buy food.

  • The argument that they would like that site to stay empty so small and medium size manufacturing can come to the site is hollow. First, there are many empty buildings in this area that are already zoned for small and medium sized manufacturing that are sitting empty right now. Second, those manufacturers are not going to be able to AFFORD to clean up that site. Let Whole Foods come in and clean it up. We will gain a responsible neighbor and a place to buy decent meat and fish. It seems the people who are most vocal about opposing Whole Foods don’t live in the Gowanus. There are plenty of places to shop in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, not the case in this area.

    • Industrial vacancy rates are pretty low in Gowanus, and the demand for certain kinds of light and medium manufacturing uses (such as those that could fill a new multi-story development on the Whole Foods site) is keeping prices for smaller users in the $20 PSF range for a decent building. There are a handful of vacant sites (some city-owned), and some underutilized buildings in Gowanus, sure, but don’t let the closed-off look of an industrial district fool you into thinking it’s not viable.

    • Industrial vacancy rates are pretty low in Gowanus, and the demand for certain kinds of light and medium manufacturing uses (such as those that could fill a new multi-story development on the Whole Foods site) is keeping prices for smaller users in the $20 PSF range for a decent building. There are a handful of vacant sites (some city-owned), and some underutilized buildings in Gowanus, sure, but don’t let the closed-off look of an industrial district fool you into thinking it’s not viable.

  • The argument that they would like that site to stay empty so small and medium size manufacturing can come to the site is hollow. First, there are many empty buildings in this area that are already zoned for small and medium sized manufacturing that are sitting empty right now. Second, those manufacturers are not going to be able to AFFORD to clean up that site. Let Whole Foods come in and clean it up. We will gain a responsible neighbor and a place to buy decent meat and fish. It seems the people who are most vocal about opposing Whole Foods don’t live in the Gowanus. There are plenty of places to shop in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, not the case in this area.

  • Two thoughts:

    1) If the Gowanus Institute thinks there are better options that will generate three times as many jobs, where are the other developers who might build such options who should be contending to use that space? As far as I can recall, for the last five years all I’ve heard about it is “Whole Foods is going to open a store there, no they aren’t, yes they are, no they aren’t, yes they are.”

    2) Sometimes the free market is a good thing. A well-run new store in the area could force the “nasty ol’ Pathmark” to improve its offerings or risk losing its customers.

    • The free market can be a very good thing — unfortunately the entire point behind the variance application that has been the cause of this past year’s “yes they are, no they aren’t” is that the corporation is seeking redress from the city (via the Board of Standards and Appeals) for the supposed additional financial hardships they’ve encountered while trying to utilize zoning loopholes to their advantage–not exactly a free market strategy.

      Whole Foods has spent 7 years so far unsuccessfully trying to develop a property that they acquired and cleared of active manufacturing uses. If the free market has made it difficult for them to develop a 58,000 SF supermarket with an inflexible design on a lot with known environmental difficulties, perhaps the company should consider restating their misguided claim that a giant food store is the one and only productive use for the site. Resort to a real market-based remedy and sell the property, or partner someone who can really maximize an as-of-right development (even with a smaller food store, why not!) for the greater and longer-term benefit of the community.

      When you look more broadly at development patterns in Gowanus–now on pause due to Superfund, and the seemingly forgotten rezoning proposal–you see large-scale speculation and uncertainty. The opportunity that Whole Foods saw years ago has shifted. Why not take advantage of a rare to NYC moment like this one in Gowanus to consider alternatives for this critical, industrially-zoned site that speak more directly to the city’s current climate?

  • architect66

    Manufacturing uses are never popular neighbors, especially when compared to upscale food markets that have the power to transform places from industrial clusters to post industrial residential disneylands filled with “lifestyle lofts” for maybe a slightly artsier class of investment bankers. Frankly, everyone thought Gowanus was done, a graveyard of dying industries. That’s why people held onto their land and didn’t develop it or seek out industrial tenants, envisioning instead a boardwalk with restaurants and cafes along the canal.

    But that was before the bubble burst. Industrial preservation is a foundation of urban economies. It is in the city’s best interest to ensure that these uses are accommodated in close proximity to city residents. The global sweatshop mode of industrial production is doomed. Best to allow for the development of local expertise in industry.

  • Why the F does it take 10 years to get a descent grocery store in a city of 2.5 + million??!!!!!!

  • Parhmark is 10 blocks south and great for anything canned, boxed or frozen. And while they are improving, they have a LONG way to go in the fish, meat, cheese and fresh department.

  • Another instance of people not knowing what they are talking about. Same people were against Fairway in Red Hook. Open the “floodgates”? Is there not a Lowes, Home Depot, Pathmark, Staples, within walking distance from the Whole Foods lot? WTF are people talking about? Where is the industry in Gowanus? How many jobs does this industry produce? This “industry” that existed was given up on long before this Whole Foods argument. The Can Factory is not industry…the Can Factory is not worth mentioning in this scenario or any scenario for that matter. We have crossed the bridge and burned it down behind us, now the only way to get a large quantity of jobs in this neighborhood is through big-box- not pipe dreams of a resurgence of industry based on speculation. What developers would invest in new commercial real estate projects in the Gowanus?!! You’d have to be a moron to do so. 80 plus percent for Whole Foods.

  • Another instance of people not knowing what they are talking about. Same people were against Fairway in Red Hook. Open the “floodgates”? Is there not a Lowes, Home Depot, Pathmark, Staples, within walking distance from the Whole Foods lot? WTF are people talking about? Where is the industry in Gowanus? How many jobs does this industry produce? This “industry” that existed was given up on long before this Whole Foods argument. The Can Factory is not industry…the Can Factory is not worth mentioning in this scenario or any scenario for that matter. We have crossed the bridge and burned it down behind us, now the only way to get a large quantity of jobs in this neighborhood is through big-box- not pipe dreams of a resurgence of industry based on speculation. What developers would invest in new commercial real estate projects in the Gowanus?!! You’d have to be a moron to do so. 80 plus percent for Whole Foods.

  • And fwiw, the guys from the Gowanus Alliance (who have a great number of small manufacturers in Gowanus listed as members) are actually FOR Whole Foods coming to the neighborhood.

    http://www.gowanusalliance.org

  • And fwiw, the guys from the Gowanus Alliance (who have a great number of small manufacturers in Gowanus listed as members) are actually FOR Whole Foods coming to the neighborhood.

    http://www.gowanusalliance.org

    • Below please find portion of John Shapiro’s compelling testimony, which was read at the hearing. Shapiro is a professional city planner of nearly forty years, past president of the local chapter of the American Planning Association, and current Chair of the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment at Pratt Institute.
      “I urge that the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) deny the variance request made by the Whole Foods Market Group in the Gowanus industrial district, Brooklyn.
      New York State law says that the BSA may grant a use variance if five findings are identified, one of which is the unique qualities of the site. The significant site qualities claimed by Whole Foods are not unique to the site; they are pervasive to the area. Much of the Gowanus is comprised of brownfields and at risk of re-pollution due to substrata conditions; most of the Gowanus is comprised of fill requiring extra infrastructure and foundation costs; and all of Gowanus is subject to increasing storm-related flooding and rising sea levels induced by climate change. Other “unique features” are hardly significant: namely, proximity to two bridges both of which touch down at the edge of the site, and the fact that there is a small landmark on the corner – as plenty of other Gowanus sites are astride bridges and have historic structures on or adjacent to them.
      None of these features fall into the category of undisclosed conditions. Whole Foods was surely not so uninformed or naive about site conditions. The only unique feature of the development is the audacity of thinking that a below-grade supermarket was a viable option on a landfill brownfield site next to a highly polluted canal in a low-lying frequently flooded area. Hence this is a self-made hardship, in my opinion.
      With regard to comparable development scenarios for purposes of analysis: Whole Foods bought the site for a purpose and plan that essentially did not involve Floor Area Ratio (FAR), taking advantage of a well-known loophole in the New York City Zoning Resolution. The best comparable development scenarios involve industry and offices, consistent with zoning use regulations. This might include intense use of the site for outdoor storage in whole or in part (such as a lumberyard), single-story warehousing or industry, recreation (as per Brooklyn Boulders), etc., in addition to more ambitious multi-story industrial / commercial development. In that last category, there are precedents for market-rate industrial development within 500 feet of the Whole Foods site: (1) the new industrial building along Fourth Avenue between 1st and 3rd Streets, and (2) the TGI building at the corner of Bond Street and 3rd Street. The American Can Factory directly across the street from the Whole Foods site is kept in an excellent state of repair with a mix of such uses. Other industrial buildings – particularly a complex on 7th Street between Second and Third Avenues – have also been renovated for such uses. These examples attest to the fact that values are more than sufficient to attract both build-to-suit and speculative development without use variances. According to recent surveys, the Gowanus industrial area exhibits unusually low vacancy rates and unusually high rental rates in comparison to other industrial areas in New York City.
      The granting of variances from manufacturing to large-format retail will be detrimental to the neighborhood character of Gowanus. Part of the issue relates to traffic – not so much in terms of traffic counts, but the complications for truck deliveries for local industry due to increased congestion on the limited number of bridges, all of which are either narrow, involve bottlenecks, or are complicated by one-way street patterns. The better part of the issue relates to land use: in granting the Whole Foods variance, the BSA would be creating a precedent for other properties to apply for the same or other use variances, thus creating a big box district or even housing district over time. In effect, the BSA could be creating a land use dynamic and policy for the Gowanus, which is in itself a risky precedent.
      Surely, the impact of the project on the Gowanus warrants a Socioeconomic Assessment consistent with the City Environmental Quality Review Act (CEQRA). Gowanus employs thousands of workers at present. While the Whole Foods would represent a major new employer, it would promote additional non-industrial development by virtue of being an anchor for additional retail uses, an amenity hence inducement for residential development, and a nuisance to local industry as a result of the traffic impacts previously discussed.
      Granting the variance would itself have land use consequences and policy implications for the Gowanus industrial district. As noted, it would establish the principle that theoretical economic hardship supersedes the common sense that there is evident market support for industry, except for the self-made hardship posed by purchase of property in the hope of variances and rezoning. Meanwhile, the site is in an industrially zoned area that is also an Industrial Business Zone. The Bloomberg Administration has renewed emphasis on industrial job retention and creation, with a new office dedicated to this purpose. The NYC Department of City Planning has kept the site in the industrial district following an exhaustive consideration of “where to draw the line” with regard to shrinking the Gowanus industrial district. The site is not within a “food desert” where DCP is testing whether supermarkets are a suitable use for an industrial district; indeed, a large-scale Pathmark Supermarket is located in the Gowanus industrial district, only seven blocks to the southwest. Most important, given the commonality of the site’s so-called unique features, the variance itself would bolster the speculative value and turnover of property in the Gowanus, to the detriment of investment in industrial buildings and equipment.”

  • This project makes sense for the community. For those who continually comment that the site could be used for alternative projects with a beneficial outcome and in keeping with the community I would like to know where they are. Who is proposing an alternative project? Do they have funding for it? When would they commence development? How does it compare to the WF development? If you can’t answer those questions and have a timeline that is in the near future then let WF move forward. It is of little use to anyone to have this last empty because at some point we feel there would be a project which would be of greater benefit.

    As others have pointed out there seems to be no issue with the use of buildings for storage and other businesses that add little to no value to the area.