Garner’s Town Council unanimously approved re-zoning and a special use permit that will allow local bluegrass star Lorraine Jordan to turn a former pharmacy into a coffee shop with occasional live bluegrass music.
The building on the northeast corner of Timber Drive and Vandora Springs – vacant for years – used to house Tom Jones Pharmacy. Opponents and supporters packed the council meeting room for a public hearing Monday. Jordan and the owner of the land immediately north agreed to reach an deal regarding parking and the condition of a retention pond before the council proceeded.
Jordan also plans to house five employees for her drivers’ education business in second floor office space in the building.
Some residents opposed the shift. The property had been zoned for office and industrial use which would prohibit Jordan’s coffee house. Glinda Russell said the property should retain its Office and Institutional zoning status. Russell accused the council of ignoring residents and only expressing concern with the two commercial property owners.
“It’s a shame they’re not willing to wait. We don’t need a fast food restaurant in our community,” she added, referencing the drive through window where Jordan plans to sell coffee in the mornings. “You know the Red Route you always read about in the paper? Grand Pointe became the Red Route. The Town of Garner, they just ran over us.”
Bill Lovegreen also complained about traffic, in particular cut-through traffic that frequently uses Grand Pointe’s privately owned road to navigate between Timber and Vandora Springs. Jane Powell, speaking on behalf of the Grand Pointe homeowners association, said of residents polled, 43 percent were against, 33 percent in favor, and 24 percent undecided. She managed to reach 65 percent of residents before the hearing, she said.
Although Russell and Lovegreen received some applause early during the hearing, proponents of the proposal – Jordan especially – seemed to turn most of the room.
Some residents just wanted to be rid of the vacant lot, which they said attracted loitering and shady meetings. Others spoke as character witnesses. Jordan moved to Garner in 1984, and multiple speakers spoke glowingly of having known her a decade or more.
Jordan promised to work with residents and be a good neighbor.
“If you make a rule, I’ll follow them. I’m an honest person, I don’t break rules, and I’ll do everything I can to be a good part of the community,” she told the crowd, which responded to her pitch with applause. After the meeting she added: “I’ve put bluegrass in the auditorium for years. Now we’re going to have a place where you can sit down and have a cup of coffee and listen to bluegrass.”
The town’s planning department recommended approval for the zoning and the permit. The new zoning category did not fit the town’s long-term growth plan for the area. But Jordan’s conditions limit potential future uses of the plot, narrowing what could one day replace the coffee shop and office space.
Debbie Shellabarger spoke up for her mother-in-law who lives in Grand Pointe and whose deck overlooks the parking lot. After meeting with Jordan, Shellabarger said she and her mother-in-law were comfortable.
“A coffee shop is one of the better choices of the many things that could be there. The people that park their cars and have conversations at night, those are things she doesn’t need to see.”
Opponents want the location to remain zoned as office and institutional, and Russell said, given time, such a buyer could have emerged.
According to Jordan, most of those opposed told her they wanted another drug store, but she didn’t think that would happen. Councilman Buck Kennedy agreed.
“Private drug stores are going by the wayside,” Kennedy said.
Russell said the land hadn’t been on the market long, and she believed the former pharmacy would sell quickly. She said it was impressive that it had sold as quickly as it had in this economy.
The property, according to Wake County property records, has been valued at $1.5 million. Jordan has approval for the loan and a closing date set; final details of the sale were not disclosed.
Jordan said after the meeting she thinks many of the opponents will eventually come around on the concept.
“Garner’s a little bit of a different community, and that’s why I live here. We’re country folk living near the city. And I think the country folk need a community center where we can all gather.”
Pond and parking
Doug Ledson, also at the meeting, purchased the property north of the pharmacy in 1998 for about $405,000, according to property records. Wake County now values it at $351,747.
Part of the reason he’s had trouble finding interest: Initially when he bought the property, he thought he’d be deeded parking spots that are currently on the lot Jordan wants to buy, as he said they were in an agreement approved by council. But he admitted his own “negligence” and misplaced trust left him with a short straw. He agreed to put a bio-retention bond entirely on his site and that limited parking, thus limiting his property value to prospective developers.
“Naïveté is no excuse, relying on other professionals is still no excuse,” Ledson said. “I only found out how screwed up all this was when the selling Realtor informed me.”
Ledson wanted to “make the best of a bad situation,” and acknowledged that Jordan didn’t owe him anything. They will work out details of a tentative an agreement where Ledson ensures the pond is properly maintained, and in exchange, Jordan will allow shared parking to the lot’s ultimate developer. Her lot has 40 spaces, deemed sufficient by her and the planning department.
“I want you to have your parking spaces. I’ll say that in front of everybody,” Jordan said at the hearing.
Residents also had expressed frustration with cut-through traffic on Grand Pointe Drive, despite having speed bumps inserted. The road is private, which leaves the property owners responsible for maintenance.
“I think they were more concerned about the fact that they have a private road, and they’re finally realizing the disadvantages of a private road,” Councilman Buck Kennedy said. “(The developers) went private to narrow the right of way and not build it to our standards.”
The narrow road allowed more condos to be built.
Jordan said a sign clearly marking the roads and their purpose might fix a lot of the problems.