News & Culture in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Points Nearby
December 8, 2016
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News + Views

City Approves Whole Foods

By Lisa M. Collins

The site at Third Street and Third Ave. where Whole Foods is hoping to build a 52,000 square foot grocery store.
Photo by Joshua Kristal

The city Board of Standards and Appeals gave unanimous approval to the Whole Foods grocery store construction plan on Third Avenue and Third Street in the Gowanus. Construction on the 52,000 square foot facility should begin soon.

After years of ups and downs and toxic contamination, battles and roadblocks, the final vote on the Gowanus Whole Foods grocery store at Third Place and Third Avenue –which would be the first Whole Foods in Brooklyn — took  place Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Michael Sinatra, spokesman for Whole Foods, said the construction should take about a year from the time it begins, and Whole Foods plans to break ground if and when the city gives it’s approval.

The organic grocery store is asking for a zoning variance from the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals, because it wants to build a 52,000 square foot store on a lot currently zoned for a 10,000 square foot space. It needs this approval before it can proceed. The store has already completed ground cleanup and other site upgrades to get environmental OKs from the city and state, though some local activists say they are not satisfied that enough was done.

The store, if approved, would also include 240 parking spaces and a 20,000 square foot rooftop greenhouse, a cafe and prepared foods operation, and electric vehicle plug-ins.

But the road has been littered with problems.

The city BSA delayed its Whole Foods vote in January after a collection of residents, business owners, city planners and others voiced opposition to the building plan. The opposition has a multi-pronged concern, ranging from worries about traffic gridlock on small streets and rising rents to environmental worries dealing with the fact that the Gowanus Canal (55 feet from the proposed store’s front doors) provides drainage for our densely populated watershed, and a large grocery store/parking lot would add to the stresses already on the canal.

Environmentalists worry about the intense sewage and dirty rainwater drainage issues in and around the Gowanus Canal. The U.S. EPA will next year launch a 10- to 15-year cleanup of toxic waste deposits in the banks of the canal, and mainly, the muddy muck underneath the water. At the same time, the state is continuing to oversee cleanup of ground around the canal, while the city is continuing a project to improve the local sewage system that drains into the canal after heavy rainstorms.

Meanwhile, the Gowanus area long has been a haven for artists and creative businesses, and many worry the store will usher in a real estate boom that will push the current folks out. Read this piece in L Magazine, with interviews with artists at the Old American Can Factory near the Whole Foods site.

Sinatra said that while there has been opposition, there’s been tremendous support for the store. He said Whole Foods wants to create a community center that sells Brooklyn-made foods, grows its own veggies and fruits on the roof garden, and becomes a daily part of locals’ routines.

“There’s been incredible support, from the community board and the borough president and from residents. We are optimistic they’ll give us the thumbs up and we can go ahead with construction of the store.”

BSA Public Hearings are generally held on Tuesdays at 10:00A.M. and 1:30P.M. at 40 Rector Street, 6th floor.

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