Glenwood Place could be everything Raleigh wants in a new shopping center. The proposed redevelopment, announced late last week, mixes offices, apartments and a hotel, all bundled at one of the “growth centers” identified in city plans.
Its location, however, may be as much a curse as a blessing. The 42-acre site sits just south of the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Interstate 440, in the traffic-flooded Crabtree Valley.
Drivers wait longer than two minutes at intersections just north of the location, and some delays are expected to spiral to 10 minutes by 2035 if the city doesn’t make major changes.
“It’s one of our most congested areas in the city,” said Councilman Bonner Gaylord, the area’s district representative. “I suspect that there’s going to be a lot of people who are very concerned, who deal with traffic through that intersection.”
In fact, Mayor Nancy McFarlane herself pushed for a $250,000 study of the area that concluded in 2011 – with no resulting city action – and she knows the problems from experience.
“Well, I’ve driven through that intersection for 25 years. … I think it’s a huge problem,” she said. In the evenings, she added, traffic already backs up to National Drive, the current entrance to the Glenwood Place site.
The developer, Gordon Grubb, and his company, Grubb Ventures, have tried to get ahead of the traffic concerns that plague many North Raleigh projects. Grubb already has announced about $2 million in planned traffic improvements for Glenwood, including a new traffic signal at its National Drive entrance.
However, the plan will need the approval of the city’s elected council, and the traffic problems in Crabtree Valley go far beyond a few million dollars, according to the 2011 study.
“The big conclusion from that study was a $100 million solution,” said council member Mary-Ann Baldwin. “… The reception was frosty.”
The council back then rejected some of the costliest items, including a plan to bridge Glenwood Avenue over Lead Mine Road.
However, a traffic-conscious council doesn’t necessarily doom Grubb’s plan – especially considering he hasn’t yet made a formal application.
First, there’s the fact that some traffic improvements may be on the way. Last week, the Department of Transportation proposed that the state pitch in $59 million to overhaul I-440’s intersections with Ridge Road and Glenwood Avenue, both near the proposed development.
Grubb Ventures will also get the chance to make its case before the council. It will have to submit traffic studies alongside its formal proposal, which it has been discussing with staff since Thanksgiving week.
Anne Stoddard, Grubb’s director of development, said the company has analyzed the traffic impact and believes that its mix of uses would help even out traffic load. The city likes mixed-use developments for just that reason, according to transportation planner Eric Lamb.
The development also has the good fortune of falling on the south side of the section of I-440 that runs between Glenwood and Capital Boulevard. Traffic volumes on Glenwood double north of that stretch of the Beltline, largely because of commuters from points north.
“Certainly, the retail components in Crabtree Valley have traffic impacts – but U.S. 70 collects a lot of rooftops that are coming into town and accessing the Beltline,” Lamb said.
Lastly, and unsurprisingly, council members aren’t dismissing the project outright because of traffic concerns – though Grubb may face a high bar.
“I think there’s certainly demand (for such a project.) The question remains whether the overall benefit of the project outweighs the traffic detriment – and until the traffic detriments are quantified, I don’t think we can answer that question,” Gaylord said.
Another North Hills?
The new proposal already is drawing comparisons to North Hills, the hugely successful North Raleigh shopping, entertainment, office and residential development, though Glenwood Place’s initial acreage is only a third of North Hills’ current size.
Preliminary plans for Glenwood Place call for 140,000 square feet of retail and more than a half-million square feet of office space. Grubb has approval to build a 292-unit apartment complex on the property, and it plans additional apartments or condominiums. It would replace more than 250,000 square feet of office space.
As Grubb pushes forward, the developer will have to strike a careful balance. Grubb is proposing a major addition to a beleaguered area, and Crabtree Valley is subject to forces beyond the developer’s control, such as proposals by transit planners and decisions by the state transportation department. Crabtree Valley is one of nine “transit corridors” under study by the city.
“Because we don’t have transit available, the inner workings of Glenwood Place” – as in, all those shops and apartments – “are almost a different question entirely from its impact on the community surrounding it,” McFarlane said.
But this isn’t the only recent proposal in Crabtree Valley, and there has been no mention of a construction moratorium.
“Let’s face it. Crabtree is a desireable area – people want to develop there,” Baldwin said. She thinks some of the development may bring improvements for the roads, and she wants to see an incremental approach, with the city adding smaller pieces of a bigger picture.
Beyond the question of Glenwood Place, Crabtree Valley’s traffic problems look to be a continual sore spot for the City Council, and an eternal subject of budget debates.
“Can we outpace it?” McFarlane asked of traffic congestion. “It always boils down to the funding.”