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.]