Supermarket sweep! City panel unanimously approves Whole Foods plan

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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 or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:30 pm, July 9, 2018: Story updated to include more details about when Whole Foods plans to begin construction and open.
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Reasonable discourse

Mike says:
Still WAY too much parking. Horrible.
Feb. 28, 2012, 10:57 pm
old tmi boroklyn from slope says:
too much parking?
Feb. 29, 2012, 12:16 am
mike from GP says:
Yes, too much parking. Should be 0 spaces. Parking generates traffic. Particularly "free" parking.
Feb. 29, 2012, 12:31 am
Drew says:
It doesn't say how much parking there will be!
Feb. 29, 2012, 7:35 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
Lack of parking generates traffic.

While you look for a place to put a vehicle that would hold a weeks worth of groceries.

A parked car is not traffic. A car bogged down in a "traffic calming" scheme is a traffic jam.

Paper or plastic, or would you like to put that in your dirty little hemp bag?
Feb. 29, 2012, 7:48 am
mike from GP says:
For more information on some of the issues caused by a suburban style Whole Foods plunked down into Brooklyn, see:

Or: please focus on the issues at hand. Insults are immature.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:14 am
InTheSlope from Park Slope says:
-> Or from Yellow Hook:
for people in the bubble.....

Report: Pollution from U.S. Parking Spaces Costs Up to $20 Billion Per Year : Parking lots can be harmful to your lungs.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:18 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
With the increase in the tax base from Whole Foods, you will have more money for bike lanes and bike racks, for the neighborhood, and more money for reports sponsored by the law firm of Couldbe, Maybe, and Might.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:41 am
mike from GP says:
Bike parking and bike lanes are overwhelmingly funded by the Federal government via the transportation bill, not City funded.

But we're veering off topic here.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:47 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
And that money comes from the magic room full of money, right?
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:50 am
al pankin from downtown says:
this is great news for downtown, I've shopped in whole foods and it is a great store..for all of this newly arrived complainers, who cares..if they really objected to the plans they should have bought the property, it's been laying dorment for a very long time. I've been passing this blighted spot for 48 years..the store will be first class..they sell great stuff.
look at the home storage buildings that have been put up in the that's an eyesore and something to complain about...
I pass this area every day on my way to my business on Jay st..this will be a welcome improvement..I can shop there on my way home.
Feb. 29, 2012, 8:53 am
InTheSlope from Park Slope says:
-> al pankin

as I recall from articles; one of the reasons it was dormant so long? it was a & near to haz mats.... they're building a giant 'bath tub' in order to build the Whole Foods in to 'protect' it from the haz mat.... I'd never shop there.... quote, "because the panel determined the site is burdened by unique conditions.” YUCK!!
Feb. 29, 2012, 9:06 am
jonb from red hook says:
the artsy-fartsy can factory trust funders and the bike zealots didn't give a rat's ass about the massive ikea and fairway parkings in red hook. is wf's parking lot only a problem because it's close to precious park slope?
Feb. 29, 2012, 9:51 am
InTheSlope from Park Slope says:
-> jonb from Red Hook

u are not f-ing kidding anyone, NO ONE wanted the traffic in Red Hook either.... they're was total outrage about having the garganchuan parking lots that were almost as big as JFK's....
Feb. 29, 2012, 10:13 am
Resident from PPW says:
Whole Foods, welcome to the neighborhood. Next, I hope downtown Brooklyn can attract a Walmart.
Feb. 29, 2012, 10:59 am
Jonb from red hook says:
total BS. the park slope civic council and CB six supported both ikea and fairway. we all know that slopers can drive to shop in red hook, but no one should drive to shop in park slope.
Feb. 29, 2012, 11:02 am
We Want a Wal-Mart in Williamsburg from Williamsburg says:
We need a Walmart in Williamsburg next!
Feb. 29, 2012, 11:32 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I hope there are street entrances to the store so that it's a part of the neighborhood and not just a part of its parking lot. Parking lots create death zones. Look what happened to the Key Food in Williamsburg.
Feb. 29, 2012, 11:49 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
This is good news. Whole Foods is converting a perennial brown field into an organic grocery that will create jobs by itself, and for other businesses in the neighborhood by increasing car and pedestrian traffic. Given its focus and philosophy it should prove a net gain as an ally for those who want to see community-positive development in the Gowanus.

That said, the artists in the area have real concerns about rising rents. That will be partially offset by increased buyers for their art, but still the City ought to zone such that the thriving artist colony in the area remains and grows stronger. Done right, the center of creative and new economy gravity for the city will shift to Brooklyn, where it belongs. So it's a good idea to surface that with elected officials now, and heck, even with the management of Whole Foods--I'm sure they'd be amenable if they agreed to put a greenhouse on their roof to appease locavores.
Feb. 29, 2012, 11:50 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
RE: traffic. 3rd Avenue is already a truck corridor. 18-wheelers belching diesel exhaust is as bad as it gets in terms of traffic and its related pollution. Shifting the traffic balance in that area toward cars, which are increasingly becoming more fuel efficient, hybrid, and EV, will probably improve air quality there. If enough shoppers do congregate there, perhaps the big rigs will find it faster to divert entirely around via the BQE.

Also, RE: parking. Much of that area already is nothing more than a parking lot. The Verizon property has scores of vehicles sitting around. The tour bus company has lots of those beasts laying around. On and on. If parked vehicles constitute a terrible environment, then people in the Gowanus are already living in the worst conditions possible. Truly, when you're living in the middle of brownfields, there ain't no place to go but up.

Please put aside your fear of the future and consider the possibility that sometimes change can be good.
Feb. 29, 2012, 11:57 am
InTheSlope from Park Slope says:
-> Scott from PS... "This is good news. Whole Foods is converting a perennial brown field into an organic grocery"

it will be a store sitting on top of or surrounded by HAZ MAT that still needs to be cleaned up or could seep thru the bath tub barrier.... U shop there, not for me....
Feb. 29, 2012, 1:05 pm
Phil from Gowanus says:
I don't understand how the BSA could have issued any ruling at all! Wholefoods still hasn't settle the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's issues related to their brownfield investigation. Somebody from DEC tried to introduce that before yesterday's announcement and was told the case was ain't!
Feb. 29, 2012, 2:56 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
RE: InTheSlope: The Haz Mat has been seeping through the soil on that site for at least 40 years. It's a brownfield. That's why it's called a "brownfield." Whole Foods has already undertaken about 10 years mitigating the "Haz Mat" at that site, after 40 years of no one, including the city or the "concerned neighbors," doing jack all.

Even if Whole Foods physically removed every cubic foot of soil from that site and replaced it with pristine top soil imported from Iowa and sprinkled with fairy dust, it would likely still not meet your standards because the contamination from every other post-industrial site on the Gowanus would make that impossible.

Please stop conjuring phantoms to chase this development from the site. Would you rather a Halliburton satellite office? Perhaps a Union Carbide affiliate? Worse yet, how about a Karl Rove & Associates lobbyist office? Talk about toxic waste! Or perhaps you prefer the same old brownfield, leaching ever more contaminants into the groundwater?

Relinquish the fear-mongering. Not all change is bad. Especially when the change agent is an organic grocer who wants to become an honorable and decent member of the community. Can you imagine WalMart putting a greenhouse on their roof to "satisfy locavores?" I think not!
Feb. 29, 2012, 2:59 pm
InTheSlope from Park Slope says:
-> Scott from PS
Any governments credibility to 'clean up' these HAZ MAT sites has been less than stellar... There is no reason to use every square inch of property in the NABE, make it a park if it is so freekn' pristine...

The concern is Whole Foods is adding to all levels of pollution, noise, air & traffic; the Pollution from U.S. Parking Spaces Costs Up to $20 Billion Per Year : Parking lots can be harmful to your lungs, that's why.... Why not just join a CSA or shop local?
Feb. 29, 2012, 6:06 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
scott - ty - the candy assed b-tching gives a laugh - hey you dont want to drive go amish or chassidic woman - you do not like cars - get a horse-
Feb. 29, 2012, 10:20 pm
scott from park slope says:
Old time brooklyn: I have a car. I support the Whole Foods project. This thread is not about driving vs not driving, but I do not support a ban on cars in the city. There are cases when cars are the best option, for the drivers of them and everyone else (can you really picture yourself on a subway car where a family of five piles in with all the groceries they need for the month, or the lumber they picked up for a home improvement project?).

But there are many, many more reasons for people to bike or take the MTA more -- even for drivers. More people off the roads means fewer cars, which equals less traffic. Everybody wins. In fact, seen in that light drivers ought to be the most fervent supporters of public transportation and biking.
March 1, 2012, 8:31 am

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