In the midst of a controversy over a proposed Publix grocery store, a global trade association this week joined the debate over where Raleigh should allow a suburban development staple: the grocery-anchored shopping center.
On Monday, the International Council of Shopping Centers issued an 11-page white paper to the Raleigh City Council blasting a proposal from Publix opponents to limit the amount of retail space in certain zoning districts.
“Policy proposals that would discourage grocery-anchored shopping centers from flourishing in neighborhood retail development should be rejected,” writes Joseph Lee, a representative from ICSC.
The group Grow Raleigh Great – made up of Publix opponents and neighborhood leaders from elsewhere in the city – is pushing city leaders to draw a clearer distinction between two zoning designations: neighborhood mixed use (NX) and community mixed use (CX). Community mixed use typically applies to larger shopping centers than the neighborhood category, but Grow Raleigh Great says the new zoning code doesn’t define a maximum square footage for each zone.
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Grow Raleigh Great’s David Cox suggests that the neighborhood zone should limit grocery stores to 30,000 square feet or smaller. Because the Publix store on Falls of Neuse Road would be about 50,000 square feet, the developer would have to shrink the store or change the rezoning request to the community mixed use category – which could pose a higher hurdle to clear.
Cox argues that groceries bigger than 30,000 square feet qualify as a “superstore” – drawing shoppers and traffic from well outside the immediate neighborhood. Traffic is among the primary objections to the proposed Publix.
But the International Council of Shopping Centers says that what Cox suggests would effectively ban new grocery stores in Raleigh.
“It is also highly probable that grocery expansion would all but cease in the city, outside of small boutique grocers,” Lee wrote. “Publix Supermarkets, Harris Teeter and Kroger almost certainly would not be able to compete effectively in the City of Raleigh given this revised interpretation.”
Lee’s report points to 11 grocery stores in Raleigh that are bigger than 30,000 square feet, and he says they wouldn’t be allowed under the proposed change. But according to the city’s proposed new zoning map, most of the existing grocery shopping centers will be designated community mixed use.
Cox said the data highlighted by ICSC shows the need for clear size distinctions between retail zoning districts – possibly even the creation of more than two categories.
“Having more gradations would certainly lead to more predictable development and help to protect neighborhoods,” he wrote in a letter Wednesday to the city council.
The debate over retail centers and other concerns about the new zoning code is taking place in the council’s comprehensive planning committee, which holds its next meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m.