Traffic issues are expected to dominate discussions when the City Council takes up the proposal for an Asian supermarket sometime this fall. But now, the debate will take place with another element of controversy in the background.
In a document released last week, City Councilor Brian McNamee accused Michael Fang, owner of the C-Mart supermarket, of trying to buy his opinion with offers of campaign donations and bottled water.
In an interview this week, Fang denied the bribery allegations and reaffirmed his intention to get a permit for the Hayward Street site.
McNamee's comments were contained in a December 2011 deposition as part of a fact-finding session in a Land Court dispute between the city and Fang. They were released after requests by Channel 5, said City Solictor Jim Timmins.
Fang had initially approached the Quincy City Council in 2009 to receive a special permit for a 34,000-square-foot C-Mart supermarket in McNamee’s ward. The project was turned down in an 8-to-1 vote, with councilors mostly citing traffic concerns.
But Fang felt the process was unjust and that some of the councilors, including McNamee, were unfairly biased against his project. As a result, he took the case to Land Court, where lawyers for the city of Quincy and for Fang agreed to redo the permitting process.
The City Council will meet at Special Permit Granting Authority to discuss the issue again, but as part of the Land Court negotiations, McNamee will not be allowed to vote.
In a telephone interview this week, Timmins said the proposal will probably return to the council in the fall, and bribery isn't likely to be discussed.
"Given the nature of what’s alleged, we’re not following up on it at this time...We're not looking to explore what Mr. Fang’s version of events are,'' Timmins said. "If Brian wants to pursue something, he can, but he didn’t care to based on what’s happened."
McNamee said this week that if the proposal came before the council, he would act only under the advice of counsel. As for his allegations, McNamee said only that the deposition speaks for itself.
In the deposition, McNamee alleged Fang used numerous tactics seeking to advance his application of the supermarket. He said Fang offered to contribute to McNamee's reelection campaign, and as well as hand out bottled water in his name after the MWRA had a problem with its water in July.
When asked by the attorney conducting the deposition if the water handed out was meant as a bribe, McNamee said, "You tell me."
According to McNamee, Fang also paid people to attend a public meeting on the topic when it was first proposed.
Even when a fire alarm was pulled, “all the Caucasians left, but Mr. Fang and one of the gentlemen…told all of Mr. Fang’s people to stay. They didn’t move even though a fire alarm was going off. Then I knew that it was totally orchestrated,” McNamee said.
Fang said he did not engage in any bribery during the application process.
“I don’t know why he says that, and I just can't believe that people would do something like that,” Fang said in a phone interview this week. “I never did that … I will always do it the right way and try to do it the best I can.”
Regardless of the allegations, McNamee said the residents in his ward were staunchly opposed to the Asian grocery store.
“[They said] too much, too big, cannot support it, cannot get up the street as it is. If you support that, we’ll burn you in effigy. We’ll run you out of town. You won’t get elected. You’ll never serve again,” McNamee said in the deposition.
When the attorney taking the deposition suggested that McNamee’s job was more to look at the merits of a proposal rather than take the temperature of constituents, McNamee disagreed.
“I’m an elected official elected to represent the interest of the people that live in that neighborhood, And I don’t think there’s anything that can get me to depart from that valuable role,'' he said.
McNamee admitted that he didn’t put much credence to a traffic study that was compiled by a firm hired by the applicant. But he repeatedly stated that in his own observations, the intersection was crowded.
The issue of traffic will be discussed yet again when the city council rehears the proposal, Timmins said.
“[A proposal] hasn’t been submitted yet, but [the applicants] are working on the traffic study. Instead of them submitting something on their own and us going after it in front of the council, they are preparing a report with input from [traffic engineer] Jack Gillon and [engineering manager] Frank Tramontozzi. They will try to address all the issues …[and] the city council will get a full report,” Timmins said.
Fang confirmed that the traffic study was ongoing and that he was committed to working through the issues with the city.
“We spent a lot of money and time on [the traffic study] and we’re working hard to talk with the city and figure out the best way to do it,” Fang said. “It could come soon. We’ve put mostly everything together and [I’m going] to submit a new application to the City Council.”
According to Fang, the new proposal will have a number of changes in addition to an update of the traffic study.
Additionally, Fang said there is support for the project within the neighborhood.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people - the neighbors and the city and especially the Asian community, and there is a need for this store,” Fang said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘You can get a store open and you will help us a lot, [we won’t have to] travel back and forth to Chinatown to buy the food.’ ''