City staff have found a proposed Publix supermarket complex to be largely compatible with city policies and plans. But they left some concerns with the rezoning to be considered by the planning commission and, most likely, the City Council.
At issue is a shopping center, anchored by a 49,000-square-foot Publix store, planned for the corner of Dunn and Falls of Neuse roads in North Raleigh.
“The proposal is consistent with the Future Land Use map and most pertinent policies of the Comprehensive Plan,” a recently released staff report stated.
The main points where the development may run against existing policies and plans, according to staff, are the placement of parking and potential traffic impacts near the site, which occupies 13 acres and is largely surrounded by residential neighborhoods, where it has stirred up significant resistance.
“We just simply don’t want it. We don’t want the grocery store. It’s as simple as that,” said Michael Hodge, of Hopeton Avenue, drawing applause at a meeting of the planning commission on Tuesday morning. Like many other critics, he named traffic as a chief concern.
The development, drawing an estimated 6,000 vehicles per day, could leave two nearby intersections with grade F traffic.
For example, drivers turning from Raven Ridge Road onto Falls of Neuse Road could see delays of 85 seconds, according to a traffic analysis; if developed under its current zoning, for office use, that intersection could see delays of 75 seconds. Development under the land’s current zoning would have significant but lesser impacts.
Access to the new shopping center is a particular concern for residents, who worry that the developer won’t be allowed to build a driveway off of Falls of Neuse Road, the main artery, under state and city rules. Bowman Kelly, a traffic engineer for the city, expressed similar doubts that a driveway on Falls of Neuse could meet those standards.
And without that main access, critics argue, traffic could come through two neighborhood access roads.
Morgan Property Group’s plan also doesn’t specify where parking will go, while city policy requires parking near Falls of Neuse Road to sit behind or beside buildings, according to the staff report.
The development company – founded in Florida and headquartered in Charlotte, according to its president – has proposed limited store hours and a one-story height limit, among other conditions, while promising to address staff concerns about the form of the buildings.
The planning commission received the staff report at a Tuesday meeting before a crowd of more than 100 people.
Many neighbors have been lobbying against the development, with fears of increased traffic along residential streets as a key point of contention. When the project came up for a vote at the North Citizens Advisory Council, the result was 522-23 against the project.
Planning commissioner Erin Sterling Lewis urged patience as Tuesday’s presentation began.
“We have a lot of thinking to do to do our job right,” she said. As of 10:30 a.m., staff had presented and the developer’s team was making its case, to be followed by public comment.
“We have a very strong national retailer interested in this site, that is consistent with the future land-use map,” said Mack Paul, attorney for Morgan. He described the project as a last opportunity to bring retail to the edge of the Falls Lake watershed. Retail development is limited inside the watershed, he said.
David Cox, a critic of the proposal, argued that the proposal catered far more to automobiles than pedestrians. He said too that the proposed “neighborhood mixed use” zoning, which disallows “supercenters,” should not permit a store so large.
James Morrison, who lives nearby on October Road, said more traffic would be a heavy burden for an area that already sees its two main avenues clogged at rush hour.
“Any additional traffic to this area will just exacerbate that,” he said, adding concerns about the annoying noises created by heavy trucks.
Further complicating matters, he said that critics of the project will petition the City Council on Monday to change the city’s long-term plans for the site, with an aim to strip the property of the designation that declares it appropriate for the requested mixed-use zoning.
The North Raleigh Coalition of Homeowners Associations also is asking city leaders to enforce existing requirements that all development of lots larger than 2 acres in the Richland Creek watershed preserve 40 percent of trees on the property. The watershed area includes the Publix site.
Paul, the attorney, said the development would comply with all applicable code provisions, though he added that the city is assessing a potential “issue” with the forestation rule.
Even if the rezoning request gets to the Raleigh City Council in its current form, the Publix developers could have an extra hurdle to clear: Neighbors have filed three valid protest petitions, according to city staff, which means the project should require a “supermajority” of the City Council’s approval.
That means just three “no” votes could kill the project.
The planning commission must make its own recommendation by Jan. 5, according to staff.