Whole Foods fight on the banks of Gowanus

Whole Foods paid to clean some of the soil along the Gowanus, a Superfund site.

A hip, organic-friendly store — even one topped with a greenhouse — apparently does not make the grade for some near the Gowanus Canal.

Despite its Brooklyn-friendly ethos of natural eating and building community roots, Whole Foods, which seeks to open a store on the Gowanus Canal, has hardly won over every neighbor while awaiting the final OK it needs from the city to begin construction.

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals will meet Feb. 28 to approve or deny the store’s plans to build at the lot, just 55 feet from the canal. If approved, construction could start as soon as late March, a store spokesman said.

But some are hoping to forestall the chain and the traffic its devotees of canvas-clutching shoppers would bring.

The Gowanus Institute, a think tank studying development issues, released a report arguing that the land would be better served by small businesses or manufacturing. Those industries, activists say, could create three times the 300 retail jobs Whole Foods promises.

“We shouldn’t look at Whole Foods as a savior in a blighted neighborhood,” said Jennifer Gardner, 30, a Pratt student at the Gowanus Institute. “In reality, it’s an active industrial zone.” 

The unemployment rate in Brooklyn is 9.5 percent, according to Department of Labor statistics.

Whole Foods remains dedicated in their quest to open in the city’s hippest borough. If approved, this would be Whole Foods’ first store in Brooklyn. “We are very excited to bring a store to the Gowanus community,” spokesman Michael Sinatra said.

But not all Brooklynites are joining the food fight. Paul Basile at the Gowanus Alliance, a group supporting business development, said Whole Foods should open as soon as possible.

“They’ve been delayed long enough as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

Nearly 600 against

A Gowanus Institute petition on change.org asking the city to reject the store had 593 signatures yesterday. 

Many signees expressed the need for artists to have a space to create, like Miriam Crowe, one of about 300 artists working in the Old American Can Factory, across from the planned Whole Foods site. 

“Affordable space for artists is very rare in this city, and I don’t want it to disappear,” she wrote.
Added Kaley Dickinson, “Gowanus should stay the way it is. It’s an amazing area for artists and musicians to find affordable studios and housing.”

And Anna Moschovakis, whose nonprofit publishing collective is in the Old American Can Factory, wrote, “We don’t need more luxury lofts, and we don’t need another Whole Foods.” 

Takes a lot to win over Brooklyn

   
Whole Foods has made several overtures to the borough in order to open. In 2010, the chain had to pay to clean the soil at the lot, which is a designated Superfund site. In response to community concern, it cut 10,000 square feet from the store, and trimmed the parking lot from 420 spaces to 250. It also agreed to build a greenhouse on top of the store for local produce.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro


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