JPNC forms team for Whole Foods deal

August 12, 2011
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The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) will aim to negotiate some form of community benefits agreement (CBA) with the Whole Foods Market coming to Hyde Square, and on July 26 appointed a five-member team to cut the deal.

The team includes JPNC chair Andrea Howley, who said she already has a meeting with Whole Foods officials scheduled for early September.

The JPNC also voted, without ceremony or comment, to dissolve its Whole Foods Ad Hoc Committee, which in June delivered a report that could be the basis for a CBA. A CBA is an agreement, commonly written up by cities and towns, that spells out benefits and mitigations for a major real estate development.

The Ad Hoc Committee’s report contained various recommendations that could be the basis for a CBA. They include conducting a Hyde Square traffic study; filling at least 75 percent of the store’s jobs with local residents; and establishing an affordable housing trust fund to offset any gentrifying effect of the grocer, which has an up-market reputation.

The JPNC last month accepted the report, but shied away from explicitly declaring any interest in negotiating a CBA. Instead, JPNC members reached out to various community groups and leaders for input about the report and the CBA idea.

At tonight’s meeting at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, JPNC members reported many of those responses. They ranged from support for a CBA (from the anti-Whole Foods group Whose Foods?/Whose Community?) to opposition to a CBA (local City Councilor Matt O’Malley).

“It is unenforceable, and several of the requests made therein are unreasonable,” O’Malley said in a written statement to the JPNC about its report. “It could also set a precarious precedent.”

There was even a surprising no-comment: state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz , who controversially originated the affordable housing trust fund idea.

“Her office stated that she did not wish to speak with us on this issue,” said JPNC member David Baron. “They refused.”

But, Chang-Díaz spokesperson Katherine Adams later told the Gazette, the senator’s office simply could not meet before the JPNC’s deadline. “There definitely was not a flat-out refusal,” Adams said.

But Adams could not say whether Chang-Díaz wants to provide input about a possible CBA. “Possibly. I don’t know how she views her role moving forward in this,” Adams said.

The pro-Whole Foods group JP For All also declined to offer a comment, according to Howley.

In an 11-2 vote, the JPNC essentially decided to stop pretending that its already-planned talks with Whole Foods are aiming at anything but a CBA or something very similar to one.

But what exactly the JPNC will ask for remains to be decided. It will not necessarily include everything in the Ad Hoc Committee’s report. The JPNC also will continue to take input from various groups and the community at large. It was left unclear exactly how and when the JPNC will decide it negotiating points.

Baron, who served on the Ad Hoc Committee, expressed concern that its recommendations were being prejudged by people who have not read its report. He blamed the JPNC’s controversial—and razor-thin—vote earlier this year to oppose Whole Foods as “not a good fit” with JP for creating an impression that the committee’s work was biased. Calling it an “optics problem,” Baron said the report actually addresses some common concerns and makes many reasonable requests.

“I think that’s really hurt us right now,” Baron said of the anti-Whole Foods vote, in which he was on the losing side. “There are certainly going to be positives to Whole Foods coming… To some degree, we have an optics problem around this report and this CBA.”

That’s not to say it will be called a CBA. “We can just call that ‘negotiating an agreement’ if there’s a problem with the words ‘community benefit,’” said JPNC member Jesse White, who will serve on the negotiating team.

Other team members include Karley Ausiello, Pam Bender and Francesca Fordiani.