JPNC deal with Whole Foods stays secret

September 9, 2011
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The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council is privately drafting what it now calls a “good neighbor agreement” with Whole Foods Market and intends to present it to the grocer in a private meeting sometime this month.

The agreement text will remain unpublicized until after the meeting, and is being written in consultation with local nonprofit organizations, according to one of those groups.

“We’ll certainly share info when we can, but we’re concerned that sharing with the public what we’re asking before we ask it could compromise the effort and be perceived as acting in bad faith,” said a statement from the JPNC’s “Negotiating Team” sent to the Gazette by member and council chair Andrea Howley.

The date of the JPNC team’s meeting with Whole Foods also is being kept secret, according to council members at the JPNC’s Aug. 30 meeting at First Baptist Church. The JPNC may hold an emergency meeting if necessary to ratify any proposal, Howley told the Gazette.

A team of five council members has been working since July on a community benefits agreement (CBA) with Whole Foods, a chain health food store that is controversially coming to Hyde Square this fall. A CBA is an agreement, commonly written up by cities and towns, that spells out benefits and mitigations for major real estate developments. There is no requirement for Whole Foods to agree to a CBA, but it has agreed to meet with the JPNC.

Earlier this year, a JPNC committee held public meetings about Whole Foods and issued a report that could be the basis for the CBA. Topics in the report included local hiring, traffic studies and corporate donations to offset any gentrification effect of the store.

But it is unclear what the exact items in the actual CBA will be. No details were offered at the Aug. 30 meeting.

The CBA team has continued reaching out to community organizations and officials, apparently mostly to support the general idea. Team member Pam Bender said that the Boston Tenant Coalition (BTC), the Ecumenical Social Action Committee (ESAC) and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) have “signed on” to the CBA idea. Questioned by an audience member, Bender said that means the organizations have endorsed the idea of the JPNC negotiating a CBA.

But the BTC has had some input on the content of the agreement, according to BTC Coordinator Kathy Brown. BTC also saw a kind of outline of the agreement, she said.

“For us to sign on, we needed to see some general points,” Brown said. What she saw included some type of funding for affordable housing preservation programs, as well as employment for locals and youths, and donations of salad bars to area schools.

Brown added that BTC would like Knapp Foods to contribute to community benefits as well. Knapp is the company that closed the former Hi-Lo market earlier this year and now will be Whole Foods’ landlord.

The JPNDC’s Sally Swenson confirmed its support of the CBA idea.

“We haven’t requested any specific negotiating points,” Swenson said in an email to the Gazette. She also praised Whole Foods for being willing to meet with the JPNC.

ESAC did not respond to Gazette questions.

The JPNC is now calling the effort a “good neighbor agreement” in a spirit of cooperation, said JPNC member Jesse White, who is on the CBA team. The council controversially voted earlier this year that Whole Foods is “not a good fit” for Hyde Square, but has since backtracked on that.

“We really want to reframe this conversation…so it’s not ‘yes’ [or] ‘no,’” White said. “We’re proud that [one of the] first multinational corporation[s] to come to Jamaica Plain really values its civic responsibilities.”

The goal is to wrap up the CBA proposal before the current JPNC is dissolved following its Sept. 24 election.

“It’s not fair to have a new council come and have to jump on something like this,” Howley told the Gazette.

The Aug. 30 meeting was the last scheduled for the current JPNC, which is coming to the end of its two-year term. Whole Foods was a topic in some of the members’ farewell comments.

“I feel like the council has made great progress, even with all the controversy that we’ve had,” said member Steve Backman, who is not running for re-election.

Howley praised the JPNC’s committees for their work, saying that “a lot of it is dwarfed by Whole Foods, which is a colossal issue.”

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