UPDATE: The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises approved a compromise text amendment on May 7 that will allow Cherry Hill Gourmet Market to operate legally for 10 years, at which time it will have to apply for a new text amendment. It still must be approved by the full Council, but it is expected to pass with the support of Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay).
A Sheepshead Bay supermarket that has been operating illegally since it opened nearly six years ago had dozens of supporters and just a handful of opponents turn out for a Council hearing in Manhattan on May 5 on an amendment that would legalize the business.
Cherry Hill Gourmet Market violated the Special Sheepshead Bay District waterfront zoning laws when it opened illegally in the landmarked Lundy’s building in 2009. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is now considering a tweak to the zoning rules to allow it to operate legally.
The community initially didn’t support the supermarket, but the shop has since gained supporters, which the attorney for the store said is proof the supermarket fulfills residents’ needs — even during devastating disasters.
“[Cherry Hill] was one of the first businesses to open after Superstorm Sandy,” said Richard Lobel, an attorney representing the business. “Sheepshead Bay is best served by keeping Cherry Hill open.”
Sheepshead Bay’s special zoning was implemented in 1973 and it limits commercial land use in the waterfront district to tourism-orientated businesses, including restaurants, ice cream shops, boat rental shops, and gift shops.
In February, Community Board 15 approved zoning amendment for Cherry Hill, but Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay) didn’t support the original application, which attempted to change the zoning for the entire Lundy’s building, not just the supermarket. Borough President Adams shared the councilman’s position and rejected the proposal. Lobel said their concerns were addressed in the new proposal.
But longtime opponent Steve Barrison told the subcommittee he is worried that approving the application will set a precedent for other businesses to disregard zoning and then later seek retroactive permission to operate.
“That is why we have laws and procedures — it either applies to all of us or none of us,” said Barrison, president of the Bay Improvement Group.
Barrison’s father Earl also wrote a scathing letter about the supermarket that was distributed at the hearing. The letter made claims about illegal activities — including prostitution — that allegedly occur in the store, referenced a supporter of the supermarket who said the opening of the store was akin to civil right marches as a “despicable red-haired woman,” and said the legalization of the shop would be a “march to anarchy.”
Greenfield said he was absolutely appalled by the letter, which he said was “disrespectful” as well as “misogynistic and sexist.”
“In the five years I’ve been a councilmember, I’ve never seen something quite like this — I’ve never seen anything so offensive, honestly,” said Greenfield.
But hyperbole was free-flowing on both sides of the debate. One supporter quoted Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about Germany’s slide into Nazi oppression to warn of the dangers of shuttering the grocery store.
“First they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out because I was not socialist. Then they came for the trade union, I did not speak out because I was not trade union. Then they came for the Jew, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me,” said Raisa Chernina. “I speak for my community — I won’t be the last one.”
Throughout the hearing, members of the subcommittee had to interrupt both supporters and opponents to the supermarket for making personal attacks or off-topic claims, including an allegation that Cherry Hill wasn’t legalized initially because the owner wouldn’t “play ball” with disgraced ex-state Sen. Carl Kruger who is still in prison for accepting bribes.
Many of the supporters included members of the 60-person staff who would lose their jobs if the supermarket shuttered. Multiple employees testified about the family-like atmosphere in the shop that extends throughout the community. One employee pointed out that the supermarket donates to area firehouses and synagogues.
“We do it because we were brought up that way,” said Samuel Nitka.