Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Rejects Whole Foods Seating Proposal

Whole Foods is seeking to add tables inside and outside its Hyde Square store. The Neighborhood Council's "no" vote is advisory and not binding on city boards and agencies.

Whole Foods' plans to received a rebuff Tuesday night, as a neighborhood advisory committee recommended against the city granting a license.

The 8-7 vote by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council is not binding on city boards and agencies. Whole Foods could, for example, go straight to the city's Inspectional Services Department to seek a permit.

The vote came amid concerns that some Hyde Square restaurants see Whole Foods' efforts as competition.

Earlier this month, a Neighborhood Council committee had , making no recommendation.

Council Member Michael Reiskind encouraged the full council not to take a vote on the matter because not all members were present at the earlier committee meeting and did not hear the information presented there. The longtime council member said there is a long precedent of the full council not making recommendations when committee votes tie.

"It's important not to make decisions on what we 'sort of' heard," said Reiskind, who is the chairman of the Public Service Committee that held the earlier meeting with Whole Foods.

But Council Member Red Burrows said Whole Foods hadn't done appropriate outreach to nearby businesses and urged a motion to deny the grocer's request until "they have a satisfactory meeting with the businesses of Hyde Square."

In the end, however, the council took a simple up or down vote. A breakdown of the vote is at the bottom of this post.

The attitude of business owners to Whole Foods' idea was a subject of dispute at Tuesday's meeting, which was held at the . Earlier this month, Hyde Jackson Square Main Street, a business group, wrote a letter in support of Whole Foods. The letter, attached to this post as a PDF, states that "the inclusion of such seating...will benefit residents, merchants and visitors to Hyde Square by providing an additional sit down venue for prepared meals...and is in line with our mission to enliven the merchant district."

But two council members took issue with whether the letter really reprents the board's opinion.

"It's unclear where the board is," said Council Member Oliver De Leon.

Council Member Martha Rodriguez said the letter may be genuine, but that Whole Foods did not go to all the Hyde Square businesses as she says they agreed to do when getting the business group's support.

In debate before the vote on Whole Foods' plan, Council Member Dave Baron said that, in general, local businesses have greeted the new grocery store "with a shrug."

Rodriguez took issue with that, saying that while Latin business owners she knows might be neutral toward a grocery store, that Whole Foods adding tables is a different animal.

Indeed, people on both sides of the eventual vote agreed that Whole Foods was not honest about its plans to add seating. Seating is common in many of their stores.

"In the only community meeting they had, they had said they weren't doing to do this," said Burrows. "If this were Wal-Mart, we'd be jumping up and down."

Because the previous use at Whole Foods' location was as a grocery store, Hi-Lo Foods, the chain did not have to get city approvals. However, to add seating for customers, they have to go through city bureaucracy.

As of last night, Whole Foods had not made an application to the city for their seating plan. Downtown boards and agencies like Inspectional Services take into account Neighborhood Council recommendations, but are not bound by them.

Here is a breakdown of the votes. Voting to deny Whole Foods' request (8):

  • Ken Sazama
  • Martha Rodriguez
  • Oliver De Leon
  • Francesca Fordiani
  • Ben Day
  • Red Burrows
  • Joe Wight
  • Ara Reyes

Voting to approve Whole Foods' request (7):

  • Jeffrey Wiesner
  • Jessica Later
  • Cooper Renfro
  • Andrea Howley
  • Michael Reiskind
  • Dave Baron
  • Hyun Shin

[Editor's note: This post has been updated with more information from Tuesday's meeting.]

Marie Mercurio April 25, 2012 at 11:09 AM
With two little ones in JP this would be a perfect option for us until our kids are more behaved for a smaller venue like Ten Tables or Centre Street Cafe or Vee Vee. We can't go to these places now anyway so this would not be taking away our business - as I'm sure is the case with other families in JP.
M. Gonzalez April 25, 2012 at 11:29 AM
I've yet to set foot on Whole Foods (would rather go to the Co-op anyway) and have mixed feelings about their presence in the neighborhood. Having said that, what difference would it make now if they tables or not? I don't think people would go there to have a "dining experience", it would just be to sit down and eat whatever they bought in there. With all due respect to Nobel of El Oriental, I don't think they're the people that instead would go into your restaurant to have un cubano sandwich. Whole Foods is now a reality and I don't think it's democratic to keep opposing them.
M.J. Lim April 25, 2012 at 01:40 PM
The JPNC is opposed to something involving Whole Foods? Wow, didn't see that one coming.
gretchen van ness April 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Again, I am extremely frustrated with the lack of transparency at the JPNC. Every notice of the meeting last night indicated that the Whole Foods proposal would NOT be taken up by the Council because the Public Safety Committee had not made a recommendation regarding the proposal. Had I known that the Council was going to vote on the proposal, I would have gone to meeting to express both the support of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street and my neighbors in Hyde Square and to challenge the many inaccurate statements that were made at the Public Services Committee meeting (such as the claim, for example, that adding seating in a grocery store is "unprecedented" in JP, when City Feed on Centre St. has had seating since it opened, and the claim that this plan will make Whole Foods "the largest restaurant" in Hyde Square, when the new Cafe Aromi takes that prize and no one has objected). When will the JPNC start using the many, many free resources that are available in JP to post agendas and meeting notices? There was nothing on the JPNC website yesterday, nothing on the Gazette website, and inaccurate information on the Patch. Why?
Michael April 25, 2012 at 01:45 PM
The reality is, Whole Food is selling prepared foods now, which I'm certain is a welcome addition to the number of casual, take-out choices in Hyde Square. The Neighborhood Council has done a disservice to customers (read: neighbors), not Whole Food, with this decision. Hungry patrons will simply take food away and eat in their cars, or on the street, or their places of employment. Hopefully they will be responsible with the trash which, if seating was available, would have naturally included waste containers. Beyond that possibility, what this does is quash community and the enjoyable experience of dining al fresco with neighbors. Well done JPNC.
Rich P April 25, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Well said "purple!" Furthermore, when did our economic system say competition is bad? Competition is what makes this country great and monopolies are what could have made this country mediocre or worse. Has anyone on the council taken basic American history? Are they aware of the anti trust laws we have ? Were they born when the democrats unraveled the monopoly that ATT&T had on long distance phone service and that congress broke up ATT&T so we'd have competition for long distance? Who on the council wants Comcast to keep their monopoly on Boston Cable? Competition is good for businesses. In fact, on reason why JP is so popular these days is because we have several options for great food. JP is the new "restaurant row." When an area is known for its abundance of similar businesses, it creates critical mass in the consumer's mind and they 'just go' to that area and figure they'll find what they want from all the options. That is why malls have food courts where all the food is in one spot not dispersed all over the mall. People 'just go' to the food court and know there will be something they'll like. So the more food options JP has, and continues to add to, will make JP even more of a "just go to" destination for great food options. Intelligent people with vision know this - regrettably , though short sighted people do not understand how communities succeed via the most basic principle - competition is good - not only for the consumer - for businesses also!
Guy Pondside April 25, 2012 at 02:11 PM
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I fail to see why anyone would eat in a grocery store when you have so many dining options up and down the length of Centre Street. While I may do my grocery-shopping @ Whole Foods, I do my "dining-out" elsewhere in the community. That said, if the patrons of Whole Foods would like dining area added to Whole Foods and Whole Foods has the space to add the seating I don't see why they shouldn't be able to offer a dine-in experience. Whole Foods ALREADY has a base of customers who patronize the store's "To-Go" section. Who cares if they eat their purchases onsite in Whole Foods or offsite in the privacy of ther own homes? Is the JPNC aware of the smart phone applications which allow users to seek-out restaurants (many of them located in other neighborhoods) which offer home-delivery? It seems to me in this wired-age where people can do virtually everything online that the JPNC should be supportive of anything that will keep customers in our neighborhood.
patty April 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
When will the JPNC demonstrate some logic? Why are they continually "punishing" the patrons of Whole Foods? BOTH Harvest and City Feed have tables for their patrons. Did the JPNC protest those? Why would it bother anyone that someone buying prepared food in an already established venue be offered the courtesy of being able to sit down to enjoy their meal? Do the members of the JPNC enjoy standing up to eat or do they eat in their cars or on their bicycles? I have lived here over 50 years and we accomplished much long before the self serving JPNC and their small pretend power and self importance were established. Logic does not appear to be a requirement to be on the council. Please get over yourselves and use common sense. The tables are for the patrons who are purchasing food already available in the store. Whole Foods is not turning into a restaurant or expanding their menu. I guess the JPNC would rather that patrons stand up and perhaps throw their trash away on the street. Why would anyone oppose making seating available for patrons?
Chris Helms (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Oh, I see some pseudonyms on here. New commenters might not know we have a "real names" policy. It's to encourage transparency since we're all neighbors. I'll email each of them privately.
Chris Helms (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Hey Gretchen, thanks for your comment. I put the most accurate information I could up about what would be under discussion. I got a call from Council Member Michael Reiskind saying it was unlikely Whole Foods would be discussed. Indeed, last night Reiskind argued that it should not be discussed at the full council level, but he was overruled when another council member, Red Burrows, made a motion.
Stephanie B April 25, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Yes, as a JPer and lover of Whole Foods, I am SHOCKED that the seating option was voted down. I fully agree that it would not take anything away from local restaraunts. If we are purchasing WF prepared food, we should have a place to sit and EAT IT! Outrageous.
gretchen van ness April 25, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Hi Chris -- I'm not blaming you or criticizing the Patch. I know you tried to get accurate information about the agenda for the meeting. My point was only that if you went to all the trouble that you did and STILL didn't know that the proposal was going to be voted on, mere mortals like the rest of us were definitely in the dark! Thanks for the additional reporting on last night's meeting. Yet again, the JPNC is making up new rules for Whole Foods as it goes along -- taking a vote last night when there was no recommendation from the Public Services Committee, which the full Council has never done before. THAT was unprecedented and there was no outreach or notice to the community.
gretchen van ness April 25, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Before Oliver De Leon makes any claims about Hyde/Jackson Square Main Street, he should give us a call. I am a member of the Board and I was at the HJSMS meeting where the vote was taken to support the Whole Foods proposal. It was unanimous. Had the JPNC notified anyone that they intended to vote on the proposal last night, I would have been there and certified that the letter is genuine and that we are satisfied with the Market's outreach to the community.
Maura April 25, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Once again the JPNC shows its true colors. What a waste of energy. Just a bunch of nay-saying sticks in mud.
Rich P April 25, 2012 at 05:15 PM
As we did with the ludicrous gold buying license that the JPNC approved down next to Bromley Heath, so that we'd have even more reasons to encourage home break-ins and jewelry grabs from the necks of pedestrians, we simply called the city office that hears such requests and told them directly that JP opposed the license. As a result, the license was denied. We need to do the same and just call city hall directly and voice our support for the WFM seating. City hall offices have known for years, perhaps decadesthat the JPNC does not represent the 37,400 residents of JP. BUT they need to get the phone calls to show how out of touch the JPNC is with how the majority feels. SO, call City hall - 617 635 4000 and tell them your support WFM seating .... just as you did to get city hall to block the gold buying license that the JPNC thought was a brilliant 'asset ' to the community. We just need to show city hall we support the seating request - it's really that simple, really! ... and of course tell your family, roommates, neighbors etc to call so that the 1,000 people who signed the petition for seating, will have it!
James Weeks April 25, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Gretchen-did the vote happen in person or via email? By unanimous, do you mean that all Board members voted in support or just the ones who were present and/or replied to the email? Also, can you post your upcoming Board meetings on your website/Patch/Gazette? And which HJ merchants (those who own a storefront or have a physical presence) are active board members?
gretchen van ness April 25, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Hi James, The vote happened in person. All Board members were present and voted in support of the proposal. HJSMS is currently without a permanent executive director, so the Board meets on an as-needed basis, When our new Executive Director is hired, you will see a new website and we will return to regularly-scheduled meetings that will be announced in advance. We followed the same procedure with Whole Foods that we followed for Cafe Aromi in Hyde Square and Gail's Cafe in Jackson Square, both of which requested and received our support.
Steven Kaufman April 25, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Enough already. Now that I see how small the place is, I just can't believe that you folks hadn't anything better to protest. The more that people congregate together over a table to share a sandwich, populate the streets , eating outdoors. etc, the more community you have. Community is not a bunch of people sitting in JP Licks on their laptops and smartphones. Go find something more worthwhile to argue about.
cher April 25, 2012 at 09:41 PM
i shop at whole foods roughly once/week and the store is small enough, that in my opinion, my experience boarders on being claustrophobic. add tables into the mix? forget it. it would be unbearable. anyway, we have such vast numbers of beautiful space- take your to go snacks, unplug, and have a picnic.
Steven April 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM
More food options in the area brings in more people. Perhaps this would have given people a reason to come to the square which in turn means more potential customers for all businesses. This type of action and publicity by the committee gives the community a bad rap. Its too bad.
Rik A. April 25, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Why did the neighborhood council vote against a proposal that the Hyde/Jackson Main Streets program supported? Bizarre as usual, and it just reinforces the neighborhood council's irrelevance.
James Weeks April 26, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Thanks for the information, Gretchen. Is there a meeting tomorrow morning? Are these meetings public and where are they held? Also, as asked above, which Hyde Jackson Square merchants (those who own a storefront or have a physical presence) are active board members?
gretchen van ness April 26, 2012 at 02:06 AM
James, thank you for your interest in HJSMS! Please friend us on Facebook and send a message about how we can get in touch with you. We are always looking for volunteers. The annual Boston Shines event is this coming Saturday and I hope you can join us. This year we are coordinating with the kids from Hyde Square Task Force and it should be a lot of fun. We are meeting at Mozart Park at 9:00 am. If you are able to make it, please make sure to introduce yourself to me.
Rik A. April 26, 2012 at 02:59 AM
The Hyde/Jackson web site lists all the board members... http://www.hydejacksonsquare.org/ Ful disclosure: I was a volunteer for several years at HJMS back in the late '90s (in the beginning before they hired a director, then on the design committee) and sat on the board for a year as a resident.
kellyalice April 26, 2012 at 03:03 AM
you took the words right outta my mouth!


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