In a session marked by sharp exchanges, 10 residents were added to a Neighborhood Council committee that will prepare a report about Whole Foods coming to Hyde Square. The committee's report will also deal with possible alternatives like Whole Foods backing out and the space at 415 Centre St. remaining vacant.
About 30 people attended last night's meeting, which was held at the Bowditch School.
In February, a closely-divided Neighborhood Council voted to back a statement that Whole Foods is "not a good fit for Hyde Square."
"You're not legitmate," resident Alex Vermeulen said to members of the JP Neighborhood Council who were running the meeting. "We're telling businesses they're not welcome...Whole Foods is a reality in the neighborhood and we need to engage them."
A Hyde Square resident, who declined to give her full name, said the spectre of a vacant building scared her.
"I'm not a big fan of Whole Foods," she said. "But I'm less of a fan of crackheads hanging out in a vacant lot."
The reference to crackheads drew a strong negative reaction from some audience members who oppose Whole Foods, who murmered about the use of false stereotypes.
"The JPNC itself is divided," Council Member Jay Zoldak said after an audience member peppered the board with questions about its role. "On balance, what we're trying to do is represent all of JP."
Council Member Steve Laferriere, who is chairman of the committee, said that before the full council's February vote that Whole Foods is a "bad fit," that the council had mostly heard from people opposing Whole Foods.
"Since that vote, that has flipped," Laferriere said.
One audience member asked if by joining the committee, a resident could open himself or herself up to a possible lawsuit for "tortious interference" by Whole Foods or the Knapp Family, which owns the property.
Two Neighborhood Council members who are lawyers, Jesse White and Dave Baron, said those fears were groundless.
"Everything the Zoning Committee does is interfering with private business," White said by way of example. "We are not able to force Knapp or Whole Foods to void a lease."
While most people in the audience were Jamaica Plain residents, attendees came from as far away as Ipswich and Plymouth.
The result of the meeting was that 10 residents were added to the Neighborhood Council's Whole Foods committee. They were chosen randomly out of the pool of interested people who had emailed or who showed up at the meeting.
The 10 seats were divided as follows:
- Two seats for people highly opposed to Whole Foods
- Two seats for people who welcome Whole Foods
- Two seats for local business people
- Four seats for Hyde Square residents
The method was by writing the names of the persons in each category on slips of paper and drawing names out of a Patriots cap.
However, as several council members noted, votes may not be terribly important for the committee. Rather, the committee will be preparing a wide-ranging report focusing on the one clear option for the space at 415 Centre St.: That Whole Foods, which has signed a 20-year lease, will open. The report will touch on other possibilities, including if Whole Foods were to back out of the lease and the property became vacant.
The committee will work to prepare that report by the May 31 meeting of the .
At the end of the meeting, , showed committee members more than 150 postcards urging the group to "do everything in your power to help Jamaica Plain envision and explore alternative uses of the 415 Centre Street space and to prevent Whole Foods Market from moving into that space." A copy of the postcard can be seen above and right with the photos accompanying this story.
[Editor's note: The initial posting wrongly said Matthews was a member of the committee. Here, via the JPNC, is a list of the committee members.]