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Council to revisit proposed C-Mart supermarket

Asian market flap raised concerns about bias

The controversy hasn't subsided, but the owner of an Asian supermarket hopes that his proposal for a North Quincy store has changed enough to win the City Council's approval this time around.

Miao Kun "Michael'' Fang wants to open a C-Mart at the site of the former Boston Gear Works building on Hayward Street. In May 2009, however, the City Council heard the proposal for a 34,000-square-foot store and turned it down, 8 to 1. The concerns mainly involved traffic.

The reasons were not good enough for Fang, who took the case to Land Court.


Fang alleged that the process was unjust and that some councilors were biased against the proposal. He also said the traffic analysis performed by the city with C-Mart's data was wrong.

Last month, a Land Court judge overturned the council's decision, and Quincy City Solicitor Jim Timmins and Fang agreed to return the matter to the council. This time, Ward 6 Councilor Brian McNamee, who Fang alleged had the most bias against his proposal - will not be permitted to vote.

Timmins said he is hopeful councilors will look at the issue with fresh eyes.

"I think that when they convene as a permit-granting authority, that the presentation will be a bit clearer and the focus will be on the zoning standards here,'' Timmins said. "The vote will be an appropriate one either way, so I'm not concerned.''

Grocery store proposals in industrially zoned areas are generally reviewed by the Planning Board, but because of the project's size (over 5,000 square feet), a special permit from the City Council was required.

Timmins will meet with councilors in an open session next Monday to ensure they know their role in the process and that they are judging the proposal based on zoning qualifications - a point that proved troublesome last time, when some councilors brought the concerns of their constituents to the table.


After traffic engineers for C-Mart and the city have reviewed data, the project will be submitted to the council, which will set a hearing date.

The development comes as good news to Fang, who purchased the building in order to expand his Boston-based C-Mart supermarket chain to Quincy.

"I feel better than before, because, I believe, people who represent the city and the ward, they are doing the best they can to work for the city and community,'' Fang said. "I don't see any reason why they should deny the project again.''

Fang said he will reduce the square footage of the store to 22,000 square feet, which would keep the market area the same, while eliminating a planned food court.

Although there are already Asian grocery stores in Quincy - the Kam Man Marketplace in South Quincy and the Super 88, less than a mile away from the proposed C-Mart site - Fang said the desire for another store is high among Quincy's large Asian community.

The main reason is transportation, said Fang, noting that many in the community don't drive.

"Most of the [Asian community] lives between Wollaston and North Quincy,'' said Fang, who said his store would be located between the two MBTA stations. C-Marts also provide many items currently unavailable in the other Asian markets, Fang said.


Fang also said he is redoing the traffic analysis for the area to ensure the market would not be an added burden. That analysis will be paired up with one conducted by the city to ensure everyone's viewpoint is heard.

Others are not so pleased that the project will come back for a second round of review.

Although he declined to comment for this article, McNamee spelled out his concerns in a newsletter to constituents.

"My opposition to the special permit was not based on the fact that it was an 'Asian supermarket' as the building's owner has alleged. My opposition was based solely on the adverse traffic impacts and the public safety threats posed by C-Mart, a position I hold after hearing the concerns of the residents of Ward 6. These are also concerns I know to be real as someone who has lived in this neighborhood for nearly 30 years,'' McNamee wrote.

Mainly, McNamee said, he is concerned that the MBTA train tracks, the businesses of Hancock Street, and the proximity to the Hannaford supermarket would create a traffic cacophony unsuited to the neighborhood.

Furthermore, in light of the rash of pedestrian accidents that have already occurred this year, and the numerous schools and community buildings in the area, increased traffic would create a public safety threat.

"The number of fatalities and pedestrians hit on Hancock Street in North Quincy is well known. In the last 10 years there have been three fatalities on Hancock Street and numerous pedestrians hit by motor vehicles,'' McNamee wrote.


Although not allowed to vote, McNamee told constituents in a newsletter this month that he will voice his opinions during hearings and said he hoped to hold a public meeting on the project prior to the council vote.

While this process goes on, many are aware that Fang recently bought the beloved Wollaston Theatre and has not decided what to do with it.

Fang said he is dealing with one property at a time, and the two are not related.

"That's a separate case and a different property,'' Fang said. "We will work on that, too. But before I do anything, I want to talk to people who live in the city and who represent the city to see what the neighborhood needs and we will figure out something maybe later.''

Some have speculated that Fang might use the theater as a bargaining chip in the C-Mart hearing, but city officials are inclined to believe that he will not.

"I'm assuming that if the permit is denied, it would be for reasons everyone understands,'' Timmins said. "Whatever he intends to do with Wollaston Theatre, his intentions are business-related. There wouldn't be any degree of vindictiveness.''

Christopher Walker, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Koch, agreed that the C-Mart hearing had no bearing on the theater. Although the mayor would be open to working with Fang to gauge public opinion about the theater, Walker said, Koch's support for C-Mart is doubtful.


The mayor "made his concerns fairly prominent at the time it was proposed. I don't know if his personal opinion has changed,'' Walker said. "Essentially the traffic situation in that area, anyone who drives in that corridor of North Quincy on a regular basis can tell that it's a highly congested area. It was the city's belief that it was not an appropriate fit to add a second supermarket in the middle of that mix.''

"Whatever is proposed,'' Walker added, "it's not this mayor's [style] to hide his thoughts on what's appropriate for any neighborhood in the city.''

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.