With a new mixed-used building slated for construction on the site, many locals fear that developer Slate Properties won’t rebuild a supermarket, leaving Ryerson Towers residents, many of who are elderly, three blocks away from the closest grocery store.
“We are in danger of having our community become a food desert,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.
The site of the supermarket, at Lafayette and Classon, will soon be home to a development with parking on the lower level, a floor of retail space and seven floors of residential space.
While developer Slate Properties did not have a spokesperson at the meeting, the owner of the site, Richard Grobman, was present, and said he expected the developers would include a new supermarket in the development.
“My expectations are that we will have a nice supermarket,” he said. “It’s my job to find an operator that services the community, and my expectations are that we’ll find a supermarket you’re happy about.”
Grobman didn’t elaborate on specifics, although he said that he was involved with the developer in finding potential supermarkets to take over part of the retail space, and they were currently in talks with interested parties. He did not dismiss the possibility that the Key Foods would stay in the location.
However, many at the meeting voiced frustrations that Grobman didn’t have more information at this point in development. The supermarket is slated to shut down within a couple months and the project will break ground in the fall.
“I’m baffled that at this point you don’t know more about what’s going on with this project,” said Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo.
Many locals were also frustrated they were not notified about the project earlier in its planning stages, with many attendees saying they had only found out about the project in the last few weeks, and often only from flyers posted in their apartment buildings. One woman asked the panel of elected officials why they hadn’t alerted their constituents earlier.
“I heard about this two weeks ago,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, who shops at the Key Foods, in response. “I was shopping for cereal when someone asked me if I had heard about them leaving. I asked the owners if it was true, and they said they had lost their lease. I’m not happy about this.”
She said that as the property was private, and was as-of-right, meaning the development already complies with all zoning regulations and thus does not require action by the City Planning Commission. The owner was under no obligation to alert legislators or residents.
Ultimately, the bulk of concerns centered around the considerable senior community that resides at Ryerson Towers, and what the closing would mean for them.
“You argue that these residents can walk to the market at Myrtle and Dekalb,” said James. “I can walk there, but the vast majority cannot.”
She characterized the housing development as a naturally occurring retirement community.
“My only concern is for seniors,” said Timothy Greene, who has lived in the towers for 30 years, and had concerns that other area supermarkets, which many said had narrower aisles, wouldn’t accommodate immobile seniors. “We have a lot of people in wheelchairs.”
This was the first public forum on the development, and residents brought up a host of other issues on Monday, including if locals would be receiving construction jobs; if local agencies like sanitation and education were equipped to handle the influx of new residents; and if the construction might unleash a rodent problem.
“These people are my family,” said one Ryerson Towers man exasperatedly to Assemblyman Walter Mosley.
“This is literally my family,” said Mosley, a resident of the Towers.
A town hall meeting to discuss the wider implications of the development was set for April at Emmanuel Baptist Church.