Developers of a controversial North Raleigh grocery store faced off with more than 100 neighbors in a heated two-hour meeting Thursday.
Morgan Property Group wants to build a 49,000-square-foot Publix grocery at the corner of Falls of Neuse and Dunn roads – the first Raleigh store for the Florida-based chain. Morgan presented its plans to a neighborhood group and expressed a willingness to compromise, possibly with a smaller store design.
But residents of the Falls River and Bedford neighborhoods say the shopping center is simply too big for a high-traffic area at the doorstep to their community. Some repeatedly interrupted the developers’ presentation, shouting out questions and concerns about the plan.
“I don’t want to turn our neighborhood into Publix access and a Publix nuisance,” resident George Farthing quipped.
While they’ve tweaked plans in response to neighbors’ concerns, the developers didn’t seem to change many minds Thursday night. Attorney Mack Paul said that Morgan aims to avoid an access point from Whittington Drive, a quiet residential street.
“One of the things we’ve heard is that Whittington is not a preferred access point,” Paul said.
The comment prompted a shout from the crowd: “Neither is Dunn (Road).” Then another person added, “neither is Falls of Neuse.”
Those three roads are the only possible access points for the property.
Later in the presentation, developer Jeff Surrency argued that having a grocery store within walking distance an “amenity” that increases property values.
Surrency’s comment drew laughter from the crowd, many of whom think Publix will harm their property values.
“Can you explain how you did that with a straight face?” asked Fred Chauncey, who lives a few doors down from the site.
Opponents of the Publix plan say they’re not opposed to development and recognize that the stand of trees will eventually give way to construction. They’re asking Morgan to consider a smaller, neighborhood-oriented retail center that’s less likely to draw shoppers from across town.
As an example, resident David Cox pointed to the Marketplace at Lake Boone, a cluster of two-story buildings near Rex Hospital that houses small shops, restaurants and offices. The center does not include a grocery store.
One of the neighbors’ main concerns about Publix is increased traffic, both on busy Falls of Neuse and on residential streets behind the site. The streets of Bedford and Falls River already pose unique traffic problems because thousands of people live in the area, and some residents drive up to two miles through neighborhood streets to reach the nearest major road.
One woman at Thursday’s meeting said turning left out of her dead-end street can take seven minutes.
Some say Publix should instead move to a vacant Kroger space at the Wakefield Commons shopping center three miles north. Surrency dismissed that possibility. “It’s vacated for a reason,” he said. “(Publix executives) don’t like the location. They don’t like the market it serves.”
The Publix developers will return to the neighborhood group next month for a vote on the proposal. The rezoning application then goes to the planning commission and city council – meaning the final decision on the project is months away.
In the meantime, opponents of the Publix plan say they’ll attend Tuesday’s council meeting to seek adjustments in the city’s development code. They’ll be joined by residents from elsewhere in Raleigh who are also concerned about proposed new developments.
City officials are currently reviewing a traffic study on the Publix proposal, which Paul says will be released to neighbors soon. Both sides say they want to talk more before the plans are finalized.
“We’re willing to sit down to discuss this, and we’re looking for some movement toward some compromise,” Cox said.