Earlier today, the Board of Standards and Appeals gave its unanimous support to the 52,000-square foot grocery on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, between 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street in Brooklyn. The vote was 5-0 in favor, according to Brownstoner, which brings to an end an eight year saga, stymied for years by a toxic site and a Superfund fight.
Because the grocer wanted to build a bigger development than current zoning allows, it had to seek approvals from the board. Local artists and activists hoped the board would block the plan, but its members were unswayed by their over development fears. A counter proposal, for an artisanal food production facility—how Brooklyn!—was never considered, and the group behind the plan, the Gowanus Institute, condemned the board’s decision.
Gowanus Institute maintains that WFM did not meet the five, legally-required findings for a variance to be granted. It is clear that if built, the retail development will indeed forever alter the essential manufacturing character of the Gowanus neighborhood. Additionally, WFM did not establish that an as-of-right manufacturing alternative could not be built.
If BSA could so easily determine that manufacturing is not viable at the WFM site, then the standard for a variance must be so low that the developer of any site could carry out similar plans by pursuing the same process–one that not only completely undermines zoning law, but more importantly eliminates the opportunity for the public to participate in decisions about development in their communities.
According to The Times, the project got the thumbs up from the local Councilwoman, though, Sara Gonzalez. “This project will bring development and commerce to a large, otherwise unused and stagnant lot in the area,” she said in a statement. “Most importantly, Whole Foods will bring a much-needed shopping option to local residents and hundreds of well-paying jobs to my constituents.”