Criticism greets Wal-Mart proposal

SE Raleigh worries about store's effects

Staff WriterJanuary 11, 2006 

Initial excitement about a second Wal-Mart in Southeast Raleigh has been tempered by concerns that the scale of the proposed development could harm nearby residents and small businesses.

Nearly 80 people crowded into a South Citizens Advisory Council meeting this week to raise questions and express concerns about the big-box store that may be built near Rock Quarry and Sunnybrook roads.

Already, the city has asked Raleigh-based Granite Development, which has pitched the project, to scale it back and adjust the traffic plan. Granite unveiled new plans Monday calling for a smaller store that includes 35,000 square feet of adjacent retail space for a variety of other businesses.

Instead, residents wanted to talk about traffic, rising property values that might push them out of the tidy ramblers and split levels they have occupied for years, and the impact that the store may have on Southeast Raleigh's fragile business environment. Several wanted to know what the developer and Wal-Mart were willing to do to ensure that minority-owned local businesses have a presence in the proposed shopping center.

"This is just the wrong place and time for something so huge," said Lorenzo A. Smith, operations director for F7, short for Faith to the Seventh Power. The group is a commercial development firm founded and staffed by Southeast Raleigh residents. F7 owns a small commercial strip near the proposed Wal-Mart site.

"We are really concerned because it seems like the wrong time to have yet another big box come in here and destroy the little progress Southeast Raleigh's locally owned businesses have managed to make," Smith said.

But the man who owns the property at Rock Quarry and Sunnybrook roads is himself a small businessman and black. Property owner George Leech said at least six attempts to develop the land have fallen through because of the lack of interest from major retail chains.

Wal-Mart and other shopping center tenants now may be drawn to the area by a 2,405-home golf-course community slated for a site less than two miles from the shopping center site. C. Grady Matthews, a principal with Granite, said Monday he would work to lease the center's other retail space to existing local businesses and national chains, but agreed to no set-asides or particular recruiting efforts.

It is not yet clear when the project would be sent to the Raleigh Planning Commission for review. The developers have indicated they will submit a new set of plans to the city by the end of the month.

Staff writer Janell Ross can be reached at 829-4698 or jross@newsobserver.com.

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