« Catching up on some blogginess | Main | Restaurant patios and pooches — the city can't find the right mix »

Feb 25, 2008


Norman Alston

I'm unable to connect your dots. What land is Whole Foods not using? Are you referring to adjacent developments? How does cutting short one zoning fight help avoid another. As far as I'm concerned, if Whole Foods had prevailed in the variance to 281, that would have been blood in the water for other developers seeking to construct their own vision here. No thanks.

Cissy Aberg

Are we, as a neighborhood, are down on Whole Foods? I'm not sure why that is. I've never seen an ugly store. Sure, they cater to the rich, but they have suppled a much desired product to me and my family and certainly employ many people that most likely would not otherwise have steady jobs with benefits. I was excited that they were moving within walking distance of my home. And I certainly can relate to their issues in dealing with the neighborhood "zoning commisars". It's no trick that most of those people make their living from selling real estate and they are not friendly toward anyone wanting the least little thing done in this neighborhood if it doesn't help them or their properties. Talk about "heavy-handed and condescending"!

We bought our first home in Lakewood in 1986 and tried to put in a nice ironwork fence that required a variance and ever step of the way were discouraged to even try it. We gave up. We bought a bigger home down by the Tokalon tennis courts in 2001. Our little driveway was not big enough for a basketball goal for our two teen-aged boys and having noticed that the tennis courts go unused 90 percent of the time, we went to Gary Griffin to ask about the possibility of putting a basketball goal on the back side. We told him we would be glad to pay for whatever type of goal the park services folks chose. He agreed that the courts were under utilized and seemed to think it was a great idea and since he was on the park board at the time, said that if we could get a positive recommendation from the neighborhood committee, which meets each month, then he could get it put up right away.

We thought this would be a good lesson in politics for our boys and their rec team basketball coach, who is a lawyer and currently President of Paul Quinn College, helped them to write up a proposal and they went around the surrounding blocks and got signatures from many supportive neighbors. We got that done, turned it in to the committee and were told it would come up at the October or November meeting. Well, that was discouraging, since the Summer would be well over by then. We went on our usual August vacation and when we returned about the third week in August we had many phone messages from our neighbors saying that they wished to remove their name, that they hadn't realized the extent of what we wanted to do and that it would draw "bad" people to the area. Well, let's just substitute, "non-whites" in place of "bad" because that's what they meant and when we called some of them back to talk about it, that's exactly what they said. One man actually used the "N-word" and one lady said, "Look what has happened to Williams Park!" and my response was, "Yes. Great. People are finally using it. Isn't that what parks are for? The people who live across from the park had rallied the entire neighborhood to make sure nobody was going to use their park. And I've since talked with Sam Leake who has been working to revitalize the boat house on the Lake and he says they run into the same thing all they time. People who live near the park don't want other people to use it. It upsets them.

Well, turns out they were able to suddenly schedule our request for the end of August. We were notified the day of the meeting. My husband and I were both working and had no time to prepare a presentation, but went into the meeting thinking we were going to get a fair shake. Nope. A friendly neighbor lawyer had made up a document that said we wanted a whole basketball court and night lights and that was totally untrue. He made up a false document, but that is what the committee voted against since the one our boys made up and spend many hours collecting signatures on had vanished. They had lost our document and we had no chance to present the truth. The courts still are much under-used and when they are, only by white people. And I'm gonna laugh when someone says they have seen a black person play at those courts because it means they noticed.

Our boys got quite a lesson in neighborhood politics and it wasn't pretty. It brought many of the bigots and fear-mongering racists that live here among us right to our front door. It was their first experience to see that adults lie and get away with it. They have a much more realistic view of the world and sad view of many of our neighbors. They insist that we NOT joint the neighborhood association even though I suggested we might get in there and change things. They don't want to be around people that think that way and I hope that as this fearful and hateful generation fade-away that they won't have to. Probably just as well that Whole Foods not come too close; all those bad, tatted and pierced and ethnic folks that work there would actually have to come in to our neighborhood. Scarry!


Cissy, I appreciate your post and while I agree with a lot of the points you made I thought that you should know that Whole Foods is still opening their Lakewood store (sooner rather than later). They just won't be building a new building.

R. Stewart

This solely addresses the question whether or not Whole Foods decided to renovate based on financial reasons or community pressure/input/etc.:

The collective action of the Whole Foods Executives interpreted in a rational economic framework speaks louder than their recent words. I support their decision to renovate even though I think our community would benefit two fold from a new store. I do believe Whole Foods decision was fundamentally influenced by the actions (or inaction) of our community whether we (or they) want to admit it or not. So, we all screwed up: those who knew better but chose to sit on the sidelines (me) and those whose clumsy steps created a dust storm of uncertainty for Whole Foods ultimately clouding their decision and straying from the best course of action. Whole Foods was doing our community a favor and was willing to take the costlier approach and endure a lengthy process to both provide the maximum economic and social good. Obviously they are not operating within that singular motivation, and as a growth-oriented company they knew first that it is in their own long term interest to efficiently grow their company through establishing consistent product distribution and service delivery systems executed through a consistent, controlled built environment represented best by their new store platforms.

It would be difficult to argue against the contention that Whole Foods is currently one of the most respected companies on Wall Street and Main Street. As such, you could assume the company probably is not lacking in industry best talent and executive leadership. If the previous statements were only partially accurate, it makes it utterly difficult to comprehend the current standing wisdom that after having traversed for months through the challenges of this project, Whole Foods now only discovers that the new building they planned was determined to be more expensive and take longer to complete compared to the alternative. The decision, in reality, and as the Whole Foods Executives know, is more complex than the conventional wisdom upon which such misleading rationality is peddled. The ‘useful idiots’ embedded in our community were anticipated by Whole Foods, who became the beneficiaries of this flawed and overly simplified conventional wisdom which supported their graceful change in strategy.

Economics requires a basic assumption that entities act rationally. As such, a risk-reward based assessment is much more useful in predicting or determining a course of action that such an entity may choose when operating in under market conditions. In that regard, assuming Whole Foods would have only rationally concluded not to build an entirely new ground-up store in Lakewood, would have determined this only under circumstances when the calculable downside-risk associated with engaging the ‘neighborhood’ (realistically, especially if they preferred to build a new building, this could only have been decided within the past few weeks during the community and municipal meetings) would outweigh the calculable operational/functional/brand continuity benefits that a new store affords.

Capital investment decisions such as land and building costs for high-margin growth-oriented retailers are not made in a vacuum or solely determined on the amount of the initial investment; in fact, because of the relative scale of the investment, arguably it isn’t even the primary determining input in the decision to build new or renovate. This is evident if you study the exorbitant land costs retailers have been willingly to incur in the short-term, such as a retail bank branches like Wachovia and Chase and even more so during the last decade with Walgreens and CVS. Publicly-traded companies need to establish durable income streams over the long term which usually must be built on a foundation of capital investments made over the life of the company usually when cash is most abundant (during its growth stage). Whole Foods knew the costs of a new building to a degree sufficient for a sophisticated pro forma and cash flow model. The building was based on programmatic plans backed with actual historical cost data from previous projects. Headquarters are in Austin and therefore they are no doubt aware of the difficulties with gaining municipal approvals for large retail projects in urban districts. This reasoning supports the fact that Whole Foods’ original decision to build new was their preference because over the long term it provided superior returns for the company and their shareholders. Therefore, the only thing that would change their path could have only been the uncertainty caused by the actions of our community.

To summarize and repeat my thesis, the collective action of the Whole Foods Executives interpreted in a rational economic framework speaks louder than their recent words. I support their decision to renovate even though I think our community would benefit two fold from a new store. I do believe Whole Foods decision was fundamentally influenced by the actions (or inaction) of our community whether we (or they) want to admit it or not.


As far as Whole Foods building on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, their actions are quite incomprehensible. This makes no sense for their bottom line and it certainly doesn't make sense as any kind of sustainable or socially constructive act.

The Whole Food site site in a FEMA flood zone. Their site on the Gowanus canal is a wetlands. The site is a polluted wetlands. The site is along one of the two most polluted waterways in NY. The water will continue to be polluted by constant sewage overflow from an over taxed NY City sewage system.

The building Whole Foods has designed for this particular site is a more than 67,000 square foot retail space that is all a legal cellar--intended to sit below the flood lines.

With raising sea levels and greater risks of hurricane flooding predicted, Whole Foods has set out to build a most unsustainable building within the highest risk flood area of NEW York City. Even when rain storms don't bring flood levels to this site, the sewage overflow from CSO points quite close to the proposed store will carry risks. The city doesn't control pathogen levels in the water next to the propose Whole Foods store--a store that is to be built all under ground.

Many wonder why Whole Foods would propose such an unsustainable building for this store in Brooklyn. Well it's not because they have some great architectural design that requires the building to be buried in the flood plane; it's because they are not allowed to build more than 10,000 Square Feet above grade under NY City zoning law. And sine NYC zoning law doesn't count the built space built below grade, they set out to build a building below grade in this polluted swamp net to the sewage overflow outlets.

How can any of this serve their bottom line? Do they just expect FEMA to bail them out? What gives hers?

Karen Sharp

I am sick and tired of Jeff Siegel's one-man campaign to keep Whole Foods out of Lakewood. His is not unbiased reporting -- it's a smear campaign against Whole Foods. Why I have no idea -- other than he can't forgive Whole Foods for taking the place of his beloved Minyard grocery store. I hate to tell you Jeff, but some of us want to buy something other than Coke and chips. And some people don't mind paying more for better quality food, even canned tuna. Why can't the Advocate present some balanced reporting of this issue for a change? There has been nothing but Whole Foods bashing from the start. I know there are people in this neighborhood who welcome the idea of Whole Foods in Lakewood, but you wouldn't know it by reading the Advocate. Considering the hostile treatment Whole Foods has received in our local press, I would not be at all surprised if they gave up their plan to open in Lakewood. Nothing would make Jeff Siegel happier, except to get back his Minyard.

Jeff Siegel

I don't mind being called names, and I don't mind people on both sides of the issue taking exception with what I say. That's actually quite a compliment. All I ask is that you read what I wrote -- and I wrote that I wanted Whole Foods to build the new store, and I was in favor of the granting the zoning variance. In fact, if you read my November column, you'll note some progressive and constructive suggestions about what kind of store they should build.

I shop at Whole Foods, and they even know who I am there. And no, I don't buy potato chips and soft drinks. I'm a wine and cheese kind of guy.

Norman Alston

I do find the comments on Siegel to be interesting. Ms. Sharp accuses him of running off Whole Foods while I continue to press him on why he has said repeatedly that he was prepared to support their zoning variance application. Go figure.

As I have been critical of Whole Foods 1)plan to tear down a viable building in apparent contradiction of their public posture of sustainable design, 2)their apparent unwillingness to conform to zoning initiated by the surrounding neighborhoods, 3)their continued unwillingness to engage the neighborhoods in actual dialouge on this and finally 4)their whining about being unappreciated when this was pointed out, I would have expected those comments to have been directed at me.


I am more concerned, and frankly shocked, that Whole Foods did not conduct an enviromental study to see what effects construction would have on the coyote population and habitat in East Dallas.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz


  • Add to Technorati Favorites