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Court Postpones Decision on Whole Foods

Delay reflects ongoing controversy surrounding giant building projects on the Gowanus Canal

A decision by the city's Board of Standards and Appeals could delay the opening of a market at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street in Gowanus, currently slated for 2013.

At a meeting on December 13th, the board postponed ruling on a permit for the project until late January, citing concerns about the environmental impact on the nearby Gowanus Canal. The store's opponents argue that construction will interfere with ongoing cleanup of the canal and could even make matters worse.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, opponents testified:  “[A Whole Foods store] must be compatible with the…cleanup process. Failure [to do so] could prolong the impact of the cleanup on existing businesses and neighbors.”

The Board’s decision to delay reflects a broader tension between the need for economic revitalization in Gowanus, which is already home to a Lowe's superstore, and the horrific environmental state of the canal. After decades of pollution from sewage, industrial runoff, and shipping, the canal was designated a federal superfund site in 2010.

At last weeks hearing, most of the 20 people who testified were opposed to the project, reports Brownstoner. In addition to how it will affect the cleanup, residents are also concerned with how the new Whole Foods will affect local businesses and quality of life in the area. The store is expected to attract 5880 cars each Saturday alone, which could affect not only Gowanus but neighboring areas as well.

“The several thousand daily car trips the store would generate, when added to the traffic that Atlantic Yards will spawn, have the potential to really overwhelm the adjacent neighborhoods,” said Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors.

Whole Foods has already revised its building plans, making the proposed store smaller to reduce its impact and adding more bike parking and a rooftop greenhouse. The project was also stalled while the company removed contaminated soil from the building site.

According to Brownstoner, during last week's hearing the board asked Whole Foods reps to come to the next hearing equipped with “additional details about several aspects of the project, [including] a more fine-tuned analysis of how their site is unique from others on the Gowanus Canal; an analysis of whether manufacturing uses could theoretically work at the site, rather than just the warehouse and retail uses that Whole Foods analyzed; and further information about how the supermarket is expected to affect traffic and parking in the area.”

Despite these requests, Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra told The Brooklyn Paper that he is optimistic that the project will go forward on schedule.

“The first hearing is the start of a process,” Sinatra said. “We’re keeping the    environment in mind and we’re obviously very aware of the canal we’re building next to.”

anna constantino December 21, 2011 at 12:36 AM
I truely believe the cleaning of the Canal should be everyone's first priority. Why would anyone want to rush Whole Foods by saying the Gowanus needs economic revitalization. It has been in this condition for awhile so a little longer should not hurt. As far as Whole Foods goes, it would be worthwhile for everyone to go to http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=JQ31LjdT_Y which is a tape of ABC's ITeam report of Whole Foods organics coming from China. Interesting to watch
Chuck December 21, 2011 at 02:07 AM
There's no need for the Whole Foods development to have as much parking as is currently in the plan. Trader Joe's opened on busy Court Street and no additional parking was provided, yet the store is an overwhelming success. The other Whole Foods locations in Manhattan do not have adjacent lots and still manage to be crowded beyond belief with customers. Brooklyn will be no different. Reduce or even eliminate all but handicap parking and the store will still be profitable. Better for the store to do more deliveries with a few vans than to have hundreds if not thousands of cars coming every day. The area doesn't need it.
tim maguire December 22, 2011 at 05:03 PM
There's no comparison. Trader Joe's is located in a residential neighborhood near a major subway stop. 3rd and 3rd is neither of those things. Arguing that it shouldn't have parking is arguing that it shouldn't be built. Which may be a valid argument, but realize that that is the argument you're making.
Michael Brown December 22, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Tim - Traders Joe's site is exactly 700 feet closer to a train station than the proposed Whole Foods site. Including as much parking a suburban store condemns the current and future residents of Gowanus and Park Slope to worse traffic and, likely, a few deaths by car over the coming years.


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