Rezoning may close N. Raleigh day care

Staff WriterFebruary 7, 2006 

"This is a landmark for the community, so I would like to see it remain here," said Vennie Mims, the lead teacher at North Hills Child Care. The rapt 1-year-olds are, from left, Auden White, Faith Little, Brandon Leach, Union Williams and Jake Brick.

STAFF PHOTO BY TAKAAKI IWABU

Debbie Dodd's mother-in-law opened a day-care center near North Hills in a little red house when the city didn't reach much past the Beltline.

Forty years later, the house is long gone. But North Hills Child Care Center remains and has become a fixture at the edge of the neighborhood. Young children spend their days in large, open classrooms and walk along a corridor painted with colorful cartoon characters.

Soon, it may have to close.

A developer is eyeing the property for a stand-alone drugstore, part of a boom across the Triangle to build more of the one-stop shops for prescription drugs, milk, shampoo and other staples.

The day care is on the losing side of this trend -- drugstore merchants' hunt for prime real estate at busy intersections.

Developers say the drugstore, which would sit at the corner of Six Forks Road and Northbrook Drive, will benefit the community by providing another place to shop.

But the people who live there wonder why they need another store hawking prescription drugs, milk and shampoo when at least three more are less than a mile away, including at North Hills mall.

And many would mourn the loss of the child care center, a fixture at Six Forks and Northbrook for about 40 years. The center's long-term lease on the property expired last year, putting the future of 150 children along with their teachers in question. It remains in the building on a short-term agreement.

"We're just here in limbo right now," said Dodd, the center's director for 19 years and owner.

On every corner

In cities and towns across the Triangle, drugstores have moved out of strip malls and onto prime corner lots as grocery stores expanded into the drug business, said Stan Lisle, broker with Cary-based Retail Rep, which represents merchants.

In some cases, grocers persuaded shopping center landlords to agree not to lease more space to a drugstore, shutting shops such as Walgreen's, CVS and Eckerds out.

To expand, drugstores started eyeing lots at intersections with traffic signals. They found that being away from grocery stores meant they also could expand their merchandise.

In some cases, drugstores have been some of the area's priciest deals. A Kerr Drug in Zebulon was the most expensive piece of commercial real estate in the town in the past five years, selling for nearly $5 million in November.

The proposal to rezone the 1.54 acres at Six Forks and Northbrook where the day care sits is among the latest plans in Raleigh to build a corner drugstore.

Today, the City Council will consider a rezoning at Spring Forest and Atlantic, where plans call for rezoning about 9 acres, which would allow, among other things, a retail building no bigger than 14,900 square feet -- about the size of a drugstore.

Next week, the Planning Commission will consider a site plan for a Walgreen's on New Bern Avenue, across the street from a CVS. At the same meeting, it will consider another rezoning request for the corner of Creedmoor and Lynn roads, where the same people seeking the Six Forks rezoning say they want to build another drugstore.

The developers' representatives, Doug Roan and attorney Tom Worth, who are working on the two rezonings at Creedmoor and Six Forks roads, could not be reached for comment.

Lisle, however, sees the expansion waning. "They should be about done," he said. "They've got the market about covered."

Not a good fit

That offers little consolation for residents in Hidden Valley West, who are fighting the rezoning at Creedmoor and Lynn roads.

Residents don't oppose development, said Ed Gelston, a retiree who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. The neighborhood doesn't mind if the property is developed as its currently zoned, for offices, he said. But retail -- whether it's a drugstore, fast food restaurant or any other shop -- doesn't fit, he said.

The rezoning would be inconsistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan, which a new state law requires officials to consider more closely. It recommends homes or offices for the property.

"This property is going to be developed so it needs to be developed in a way that is compatible with the neighborhood and compatible with the city's Comprehensive Plan," Gelston said.

The rezoning at Six Forks and Northbrook also doesn't follow the Comprehensive Plan. It generally recommends housing or offices.

Jeanette Bennett, a neighbor, said there is plenty of shopping at nearby North Hills Mall.

"We don't need another drugstore that close," she said. "It also would create a lot of traffic into the neighborhood. And the day care center serves a big purpose."

At North Hills Child Care, Dodd said she's not sure what she'll do next if she's forced to close.

Her heart breaks when she thinks about what might happen to her staff, some of whom have worked at the center for decades, the young children who have grown attached to their teachers and working parents, who would have to find another day care.

There's always something new to add to the playground or fix in a building full of children. But she's had to hold off on projects as the future of the property is debated at City Hall.

"Never did I think in a million years that this center would not be sitting here," Dodd said. "I never would have given it a thought."

Staff writer Sarah Lindenfeld Hall can be reached at 829-8983 or slindenf@newsobserver.com.

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