Falls of Neuse grocery plan draws fire in North Raleigh

ccampbell@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2013 

— More than 500 neighbors of a proposed grocery store on Falls of Neuse Road have signed a petition opposing the store, saying their neighborhood doesn’t want more traffic – or another grocer.

Morgan Property Group, a Charlotte developer that works with the Publix supermarket chain, is working to rezone a 12-acre site on the east side of Falls of Neuse Road near Dunn Road and the entrance to the Bedford at Falls River subdivision. The developer is planning a 50,000-square-foot grocery with adjacent shops but won’t confirm that Publix is coming.

Falls River residents say they’ve got nothing against the Florida-based chain – which is building its first Triangle location in Cary – but they’re not happy with the location.

“In our opinion, it’s like a scar on an otherwise scenic area,” said David Cox, who is among those leading the petition drive. “We believe the city agrees with us that we need to protect this area. ... We think it’s counter to that goal to put in what is essentially a strip mall.”

Falls of Neuse Road is a busy commuter route from Interstate 540 to Wake Forest, and residents are worried grocery traffic could put a choke point in a road that just got a much-needed widening.

Beyond Falls of Neuse, some say Publix shoppers might take to using quiet neighborhood streets as a 2-mile cut-through from the new store to Durant Road.

“This will result in horrendous traffic,” Terry Lightfoot wrote to the City Council, “and will endanger the many walkers, runners, joggers and cyclists that use the Bedford network of roads and sidewalks on a daily basis.”

Jeff Surrency, Morgan’s executive vice president of development, said traffic studies haven’t been done yet, so the impact is unclear. But he says the grocer aims to serve the 10,000 or so people in the neighborhood behind the site, and it won’t be open 24 hours.

“This is a smaller grocery store by today’s standards,” he said.

And while the southeastern corner of Raleigh is begging for a new grocery store, residents across town in Falls River say they’re stocked up on places to stock up.

“I think that we don’t need another supermarket, as we have two Harris Teeters and two Food Lions that we can easily get to,” Karla Brantley said.

As evidence of the area’s grocery saturation, they point to a vacant 55,000-square-foot space in Wakefield Commons, about 3 miles north of the proposed Publix location near just off Falls of Neuse Road. It’s been vacant since Kroger left in 2011; the Ohio chain has the site up for rent but hasn’t had any takers.

Opponents of the Falls of Neuse grocery plan have written to Publix asking it to consider setting up shop in the old Kroger instead.

Surrency said he has looked at the empty space and doesn’t think it’s a viable alternative.

“The Kroger space closed for a lot of reasons,” he said. “The retail space itself has access issues, and it’s not well-positioned.”

Morgan Property Group has cleared one regulatory hurdle so far: The Raleigh Planning Commission voted last month to delete an earlier plan on the books that would have turned the property into an office park. The company must now apply for rezoning; Surrency said he’s not sure when that will be submitted.

Surrency said details about the development are still being hashed out, and he is hoping neighbors will keep an open mind in the coming months. “At a minimum, they should get a very good look at what we intend to do,” he said.

Surrency can expect a packed house at the neighborhood meetings and public hearings. Falls River has one of North Raleigh’s most vocal community groups, and residents turned out in droves to debate the design of the Falls of Neuse Road widening project.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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