JPNC tries new Whole Foods strategy

December 2, 2011
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Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) once again took up the thorny issue of Whole Foods at a Nov. 21 meeting of the revamped Whole Foods Negotiating Committee.

The group hopes to look at gentrification in Hyde Square, where Whole Foods recently opened a store, and reestablish communication with the grocer. But a community benefits agreement appears to be off the table.

A September proposal by the JPNC for a “Good Neighbor Agreement” between Whole Foods—which has since opened its Hyde Square store—and the community was rejected by the grocer, and there has been little public communication from Whole Foods since then.

“The best way to move forward is not to rehash what happened,” said Jesse White, who is serving her second two-year term on the council, and was formerly a proponent of the agreement.

Helen Matthews—a community member involved with the anti-Whole Foods group Whose Foods? Whose Community? The Coalition for an Affordable and Diverse JP—encouraged the JPNC to reaffirm its support for the Good Neighbor Agreement.

“We never expected them to say yes in the first go-round,” she said.

But the proposed agreement, which called on Whole Foods to set up a fund specifically to support JP initiatives, was controversial in the neighborhood. Council members at the meeting said they are more interested in trying other strategies for dealing with Whole Foods’ impacts.

“One thing I think people can agree on, regardless of how they feel about Whole Foods, is that gentrification is an issue,” White said.

Even Whole Foods supporters have reacted negatively to the idea of other chains, like Urban Outfitters or Starbucks, moving to the neighborhood, said Ken Samza, a newly elected JPNC member who was chairing the meeting.

“Whole Foods is going to be successful and the next one is going to want to come in,” he said.

The committee proposed to pursue a few avenues for dealing with those issues. It plans to try to figure out the status of a previously floated plan, championed by local City Councilor Matt O’Malley, where Whole Foods would help local bodega owners in Hyde Square by helping them set up a buyers’ co-op.

Speaking to the Gazette last week, O’Malley said that there had been conversations between Whole Foods and local storeowners, but he had not heard an update since before the store opened. Whole Foods spokesperson Jennifer Licht did not respond to Gazette requests for comment by press time.

The committee also hopes to support proposed efforts by area nonprofits to track future trends in the Hyde Square area. JPNC chair Ben Day said the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) is hoping to find resources to track rental housing trends in the area, and the Gaston Institute at UMass Boston is considering a study of local food options in the area.

“If we can find the resources, it would be of interest,” JPNDC spokesperson Sally Swenson told the Gazette, discussing the housing rental prices study. Gazette calls to the Gaston Institute were not returned by press time.

The Whole Foods committee will also propose that the JPNC’s Housing and Development Committee examine whether the council should adopt new commercial development guidelines for the neighborhood. Those could either be non-binding guidelines or enforceable city zoning changes, JPNC member Red Burrows said.

The committee plans to conduct a survey of community groups and residents to try to access the community’s mood about Whole Foods. That survey would be available online and in other formats, JPNC members said.

And the committee plans to try again to reach out to Whole Foods, including by inviting Licht to a meeting.

“We would have to make sure we are not setting her up as a clay pigeon. We would have to make sure she feels comfortable,” said longtime JPNC member Andrea Howley, noting that meetings about Whole Foods in the past have sometimes gotten acrimonious.

 

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