Moisha’s Gets Community Board Support After Stormy Meeting


moishasIn a packed, tension-filled meeting of Community Board 12 Tuesday night, Moisha Binik emerged with unanimous support for plans to expand his Moisha’s Discount Supermarket in Midwood.

After a contentious debate that not only touched on the Moisha’s project but exposed hostilities between factions on the Board, a resolution was passed 29 to 0, with 6 abstentions, expressing support for the plan.Moisha’s has been preliminarily awarded a $1.93-million city tax exemption, to be spread over 25 years, as an incentive to double in size, to 15,000 square feet. The Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program is aimed at helping supermarkets open or expand in neighborhoods that do not have sufficient access to fresh produce, meat and dairy.

Mr. Binik is paying the full cost of construction, which is $8 million. The FRESH program only gives him a break on city taxes.

The resolution also commends Binik and his family for risking their own money to double the size of the popular supermarket on the corner of Avenue M and East 4th Street, seen as a service to the community. The expansion, which will include a rooftop parking lot and loading zone, is expected to address complaints of customers and neighbors. The Biniks have acknowledged that their business creates parking and congestion issues.

Known for its low prices, the store is typically jammed. Lines at the cashier flow into the aisles; they will be widened as part of the project. In addition, various produce stands are currently displayed, by right of permit, on the sidewalk of Avenue M. When the project is done, they will be located in the store.

Tuesday’s meeting took place in the Amico Senior Center on 13th Avenue and lasted nearly two hours.

The Board’s district manager, Wolf Sender, who had come under attack from a few Board members, was vindicated by the outcome of the debate. He testified at a public hearing on Feb. 3 that the Board supports the Moisha’s project “all the way.” The endorsement drew ire from members who said they didn’t support it and that he had no right to speak for the Board since the issue hadn’t been formally discussed.

When complaints arose, Mr. Sender apologized for couching his remarks in the plural, saying that he meant to speak only for himself. Tuesday’s vote, though, showed that he was on target in his comments to the Industrial Development Association of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a non-profit city entity that provides incentives for business growth.

Asked by Hamodia after the meeting if Mr. Sender’s position is in danger, Alan Dubrow, Community Board 12 Chairman, responded with an emphatic “No!”

The Moisha’s project does not require any variances or zoning changes; thus, Community Board approval is not needed. But the project became controversial after media reports circulated allegations that political cronyism finagled by Orthodox Jewish power-brokers led the city to bend rules and pitch in funding.

Misconceptions about the project have included: Moisha’s is being given funds for the project; the store is not eligible for the FRESH program; Moisha’s getting FRESH program benefits takes the opportunity away from other neighborhoods; and the funds will pay for a parking lot that has nothing to do with increasing fresh produce in the neighborhood.

“Moisha’s is definitely eligible. This is not in question,” Kyle Sklerov, spokesman for the EDC, told Hamodia yesterday. “We’re not giving anyone money. We’re giving them tax abatements they’re eligible for.”

Sklerov explained that any business within an underserved area that applies for a FRESH award and is found eligible will be granted a tax abatement.

Whether an area is underserved depends on the ratio of population density to square footage of food retail space. Some have alleged that the area is not underserved because of local fruits and vegetable stores. But those businesses do not sell other key staples. In addition, some of the grocery stores do not offer kosher goods needed by a majority of residents.

Although the objective of the FRESH program is to ensure adequate food options to residents, a cost analysis done by the EDC concludes that the Moisha’s project will result in a financial benefit to the city. The $1.93-million tax break is projected to yield $3.67 million in addition tax revenues.

Corporate recipients of FRESH benefits are not approached by the city. Businesses or prospective businesses are approved based on applications. Since funds are not being dispensed, there is no cap on approvals.

FRESH began in February 2010. So far, three Bronx supermarkets have received tax abatements. Moisha’s is the fourth entity to be awarded; it will receive land and sales tax exemptions.

Before submitting its FRESH application, Moisha’s had already planned on expanding. The Biniks had purchased four homes adjacent to the store – two for extra store space and two for a parking lot and loading zone. According to Berachya Binik, Moisha’s brother and manager of Moisha’s, the FRESH award allows them to use all space from the purchased homes for the store and build a 45-spot parking lot on the roof.

he Moisha’s FRESH application was approved by the Industrial Development Corporation’s board on Feb. 8. Mr. Sklerov of the EDS said that final approval has not been scheduled but should occur in about a month.

At Tuesday’s Community Board meeting, supporters hailed the Binik family’s vast charitable support and projects. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, in a statement read by his chief of staff, Marc Kronenbrug, noted that Moisha’s gives away half a million dollars in free food to poor families annually. Mr. Hikind has lived a block away from the store since it opened about 13 years ago.

After the resolution vote, Board member Peter Rabenwurtzel took the floor to decry a district resident’s claim, quoted in a Daily News article on the Moisha’s project, that the board is corrupt.

“I’m appalled. Shame on you to call us corrupt,” he thundered, pointing at accuser Natalie Denicola, sitting a few rows away. He challenged her to substantiate her claim, but she remained quiet as Board member Anna Cali spontaneously rose and interrupted, implying that the composition of the board is imbalanced.

“It’s about time some of the people from a different part of the community are on the board … Maybe it’s time that people who have been on the board a little too long are getting a little too comfortable and are not questioning unacceptable practices,” Ms. Cali told the assembly.

Mr. Rabenwurtzel then made a motion for a vote to have Ms. Cali removed from the Board on the grounds she defended unfounded charges of corruption against the Board. As Ms. Cali denied backing the accusation, the motion was seconded. Mr. Durbow, however, called for a motion to adjourn and the meeting abruptly ended.

“I think she was little out of order,” Mr. Dubrow told Hamodia about Ms. Cali. “Because you are defending somebody who says the board is corrupt. I don’t see how the board is corrupt. Hopefully cooler heads can prevail as we move forward.”

After the meeting, Hamodia invited Ms. Cali to present her side, but she declined an immediate answer and said she would think about it. Hamodia asked Ms. Denicola to elaborate on her remarks about corruption reported in the Daily News.

“I might have been misquoted,” she said, reiterating that position a few times. Asked what she did tell the Daily News, she said, “I don’t recall.”

She refused to answer further questions.

Click on the following links to watch videos of the meeting:

Video 1.

Video 2.

Video 3.

{Hamodia Daily/ Newscenter/Videos – Shimon Gifter}