Developers go door to door for North Raleigh Publix

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Raleigh planning director Mitchell Silver said the zoning allows convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.

After more than 2,000 residents signed a petition opposing a Publix grocery store in North Raleigh, the developers behind the plan are trying a new approach: going door to door in the neighborhood.

Morgan Property Group of Charlotte wants to build a shopping center on wooded property at the corner of Fall of Neuse and Dunn roads, including a 49,000-square-foot grocery. But many neighbors in the surrounding Bedford neighborhood don’t want it, saying it would increase traffic in an area that already has four nearby grocery stores.

Morgan hasn’t gone through a city rezoning process yet for the 12-acre site, but the developers are hoping to make their case to neighbors before formal hearings take place. They worry that opponents leading the petition drive have created misconceptions about their plans.

“What we’re trying to do is recognize there are a lot of neighbors in this area, and what we’re trying to do is get a pipeline to them directly,” said Trey Morgan, president of Morgan Property.

Morgan has enlisted the help of Chuck Fuller’s Results Co., which spent this week passing out door hangers that explain the proposal and say “we came by to listen.” Fuller, a GOP veteran who managed campaigns for U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, runs a public affairs firm “advising senior executives on how to promote a more business-friendly climate in the minefield of politics,” according to his website.

While Fuller’s firm is involved, Morgan says the developers plan to meet directly with small groups of residents. “We’ll meet anybody, anywhere, anytime,” he said.

Opponents of the Publix plan, however, don’t like the door-to-door efforts, which direct residents to a website called BringPublix.com.

“They are resorting to tactics commonly seen in election cycles,” said George Farthing, who lives a few blocks behind the Publix site. “This is a situation where you have a developer with deep pockets, and they are fighting opposition in ways that feels like a political campaign as opposed to an honest discourse of ideas.”

Morgan says his company simply wants to make its case directly to neighbors, and he says opponents have gathered signatures by presenting a “false choice.”

“It’s not a choice between Publix or a park,” Morgan said, adding that the site will be developed. The door hangers distributed this week list several possibilities that Morgan claims would be allowed under existing zoning: a 24/7 convenience store, a fast-food restaurant and a bar, adding that the developers have “no interest” in building those establishments.

Farthing says that statement “feels like a threat that if we can’t put a grocery store and strip mall in here, we’ll dump a 24/7 gas station or another undesirable business in your neighborhood.”

Farthing also questions whether that claim is accurate. Raleigh planning director Mitchell Silver said the zoning allows convenience stores and fast-food restaurants – but only if they’re less than 3,000 square feet each and don’t have a drive-through window. Bars, he said, aren’t allowed unless they’re part of a restaurant or hotel.

Morgan Property Group has also tweaked its plans in response to the outcry. While a 49,000-square-foot Publix would still anchor the center, the surrounding retail space would be reduced from 15,000 to 12,950 square feet.

The only outparcel would likely be a bank. A tree buffer would screen the shopping center from Falls of Neuse Road and the residential areas. And to address the traffic concerns, Morgan would build an additional right turn lane connecting northbound Falls of Neuse to the store parking lot without backing up neighborhood traffic on Dunn Road.

But Farthing and other opponents say the shopping center is still too big and would likely draw shoppers and traffic from well beyond the Bedford area. Farthing said that while development may be inevitable, he’d rather see a smaller, walkable center similar to the Shoppes at Bedford, which has several restaurants and shops in the center of the neighborhood.

Not everyone in Bedford, however, is opposed to Publix, which would be Raleigh’s first store for the Florida supermarket chain.

“It is evident that the entire area is growing, and stifling this idea because it upsets a minority of the population doesn’t benefit the overall community,” Heather Hill wrote to the City Council recently.

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

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