JPNC: Whole Foods is not a good fit

March 18, 2011
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Council wants more info

In a close vote, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) opposed Whole Foods’ move to JP at a March 7 meeting. But JPNC members told the Gazette that they are still open to hearing from the grocer.

“Based on what we know now, we are concerned that Whole Foods is not a good fit for Hyde Square. We hope that it will reconsider its decision to move into the neighborhood,” the resolution says.

JPNC member Jesse White, who proposed the resolution at the meeting. She told the Gazette that the language of the resolution—basing the council’s opposition to the store “on what we know now”—indicates that the council is open to hearing from Whole Foods.

“What I really hope, if it happens, is that Whole Foods wants to be a good partner—to be responsible to the community. That they respond to the concerns that have been raised and engage in a conversation. That they have something to offer to mitigate the negative impact” some community members are concerns about, White said.

The resolution was passed in a close 9-8 vote, with 17 of the JPNC’s 20 members, and over 100 spectators, most of them opposed to the new grocery store, in attendance, JPNC member David Baron told the Gazette.

Laura Derba, regional president for Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region said she was “disappointed” by the vote.

“We remain excited to serve the neighborhood, and eager to prove ourselves as positive community partners,” she said in a written statement.

White said she believes “Whole Foods will speed up gentrification, increase business and residential rents and displace low-income neighbors.”

She said she is also concerned about traffic and parking in Hyde Square. Whole Foods officials previously told the Gazette they expect the new store will need additional parking.

Baron, a JPNC member who opposed the resolution, said he thinks concerns about gentrification are valid. But, he added “Like many people I am very concerned about Knapp Foods deciding to keep that space vacant…If the alternatives are no investment, no jobs and a big ugly storefront, it’s a different calculus.”

Knapp Foods is the Newton-based company that owns the 415 Centre St. space Whole Foods plans to move into. It also owned Hi-Lo Foods, a Latino-oriented grocery store that operated out of the 415 Centre St. space until last month. Whole Foods has signed a long-term lease on the space and will gain access to it this month, Whole Foods officials have said.

Both White and Baron said they are eager to hear more details from Whole Foods officials about plans for Centre Street store.

Whole Foods has been the subject of four community meetings since the store’s Hyde Square plans were made public in January. No Whole Foods officials have made public statements at any of those events.

In her written statement, Derba said, “There has been a lot of conversation about Whole Foods Market coming to Jamaica Plain – positive and negative. We have heard both sides. While we are certainly disappointed that the final vote by the [JPNC] was not in our favor, we are encouraged that it was such a close vote.

Whole Foods spokesperson Heather McCready previously told the Gazette the company plans to host its own forum this spring.

Derba also indicated that Whole Foods received a large number phone calls and e-mails from community members indicating support from the new store following the vote.

Both Baron and White said they don’t think the vote will prejudice the council in the event that Whole Foods has business before it.

The JPNC is a volunteer, elected body that often hosts forums to gauge community input on city zoning and licensing matters. After hearing from petitioners and residents, the council votes to recommend approval or rejection of petitioners’ licensing or zoning variance requests, and forwards those recommendations to the city zoning or licensing board. Those city boards are responsible for approving the petitions, but they weigh community input heavily.

It is not entirely clear whether Whole Foods will need any licensing or zoning approvals, but if they do, “We are still the neighborhood council. We are still JP. They have to talk to us,” Baron told the Gazette. Baron heads the JPNC zoning committee.

The JPNC also voted to form an ad hoc committee to continue to look at the Whole Foods issue. The membership and objectives of that committee were not specified at the March 8 meeting, Baron and White said.