For the second time, Quincy city councilors denied a proposal for an Asian supermarket in North Quincy, after a tense debate that became almost as much about race as about traffic.
The controversy surrounding the proposed C-Mart off Hayward Street has spanned the course of years, yet in a 5-to-3 vote against the project, councilors decided Monday night to bar the project to the predominantly Asian neighborhood.
“This project came before us four years ago,” said Councilor Michael McFarland in the deciding vote. “At the time I voted against it and I did because the idea of the concept works well, but there is no way to get there and get out of that location. The location doesn’t work. The proposal that came before us [this time] is primarily the same proposal. There is still no way to get from here to there.”
However, spokemen for C-Mart owner Miao Kun "Michael" Fan said this wasn’t the end of the story. There will be a status conference with the Land Court judge on Wednesday, and next steps would be discussed at that time.
The controversy began in 2009, when councilors denied a permit for the grocery store due to traffic concerns. Fang then alleged that the denial had more to do with bias, and took the case to Land Court.
A subsequent ruling sent the case back before the City Council, and councilors - absent one member who was prohibited from participating - have been reviewing the pros and cons since March.
Councilors spoke for much of the two-hour event on Monday. However, the night’s debate began with testimony from the mayor’s director of engineering, Frank Tramontozzi, who was hired mainly to direct the city’s billion-dollar downtown redevelopment project.
“You will exacerbate another traffic condition and create more traffic problems. If you think queue lengths are long now, you can expect even greater,” Tramontozzi said in a prepared statement.
Called by one of the councilors to testify as an expert in traffic, Tramontozzi went on to say that he would recommend the C-Mart development be denied, and the developer look into uses applicable within the zoning regulations, such as a movie theater, medical center, or restaurant.
Tramontozzi’s comments had C-Mart proponents up in arms, who said they were not given fair opportunity to respond and asked that the council disregard his statements.
“I would suggest it’s a late submittal, inappropriate at this stage,” said Edward Fleming, attorney for Fang. “I would suggest to do so without a written report and findings is not appropriate and is unfair.”
Spokespeople for Fang said the last-minute testimony was the tip of the iceberg in a process that had largely favored the opposition.
“We were shortchanged this evening and on other occasions as well,” said PR spokesman Steve Crawford.
Another point of contention was Mayor Thomas Koch’s letter to the council, Crawford said. In that letter, the mayor blasted members of the community for implying in a prior public hearing that race had played a role in the councilor’s decisions.
The race issue resurfaced Monday night, as Councilor Kevin Coughlin reiterated that racial bias had nothing to do with his decision.
“Those proponents, who introduced race and ethnicity [into the discussion] brought shame and dishonor onto themselves … my obligation is to make decisions as reported on facts and by applying common sense,” he said.
Coughlin said his "no" vote was motivated by traffic issues, because the narrow, congested streets couldn’t support such a high use.
Councilor Kirsten Hughes agreed, called the supermarket proposal a “burden” to the neighborhood. Councilor Brad Croall said traffic would be too much to bear, despite mitigating measures by the applicant.
While Councilor Margaret Laforest outlined the benefits of the project, including fiscal impact for the city, increased employment, and economic development, she also said traffic, including the delivery of goods, was a concern.
Though traffic played a role in Councilor Palmucci’s decision, Palmucci said he couldn’t vote "no," due to the orders of the Land Court judge.
“We are to consider this project not against nothing, but what is a 'by right' use. And I think the by right uses presented to the body and the by right uses and traffic studies are far more detrimental to the neighborhood,” Palmucci said.
Councilor Joseph Finn also took the judge’s remand orders to heart.
“This isn’t about ethnicity,” Finn said. “It’s not about ethnic or racial differences. But at the end of the day, it’s about process…we gauge this traffic and have to base on those studies presented before us and have to base it on what the proponent can do as a matter of right.”
Councilor Doug Gutro said that the council should look to installing more mitigating measures for the project, rather than outright denying it.
“If this was moving towards passage, I would have a number of conditions around traffic, drainage, utilities, signage, regulating the facade, landscaping, environmental cleanup. I think it’s important to be cognizant that denying it doesn’t improve traffic of the level of service along the corridor and the city doesn’t have anything on the books to do so,” he said.
Though the motion for the store did not pass,