A controversial Publix grocery store is headed to the Raleigh City Council, but the plan’s not final. In fact, townhouses and a parking garage may become part of the proposal before everything’s said and done.
Debates between neighbors and Morgan Property Group and city staff are continuing, even as deadlines approach for the 49,000-square-foot store, planned for the corner of Dunn Drive and Falls of Neuse Road in North Raleigh.
The city’s Planning Commission was due to make a recommendation at its meeting Tuesday – the last before a Jan. 5 deadline – before passing it on to the council.
But with neighborhood negotiations still in flux, the commission instead will ask the council for a 60-day delay to consider potential changes to the plan.
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Mack Paul, an attorney representing Morgan, said that the developer is trying out different ideas as the weeks wind down. “We’ve done multiple, multiple scenarios,” he told the commission.
Among them is the possibility of building a parking structure, possibly beneath the new store, to reduce the size of the surface parking lot. Parking has been an issue for the well-organized group of neighbors who have criticized the plan.
The developer also is trying to get N.C. Department of Transportation’s permission to add an entrance off Falls of Neuse Road. Neighbors worry that the proposed entrances on smaller roads would jam neighborhood entrances.
David Cox, who has been something of a representative for neighbors, also has problems with a Falls of Neuse entrance, because it would be too close to Whittington Road and Dunn Drive.
“That wouldn’t be an improvement at all,” he said.
The developer also has floated the idea of building 17 townhouses near the grocery store in meetings with neighbors and Mayor Nancy McFarlane, according to Cox. He’s not keen on the idea, which he said would bring its own traffic and parking impact.
“It’s only going to exacerbate the problem,” he said. Paul confirmed that some variants of the plan include townhouses.
If the council grants the delay, the commission will have until March to give the thumbs up or thumbs down for the project, which was proposed late last year and has raised traffic conerns among neighbors.
If the council doesn’t grant the delay, members will finally take up the matter themselves – without formal input from the planning board.
Ultimately, according to Cox and Paul, one issue above all will continue to separate the sides. And that’s the critics’ contention that the store is ultimately too big to be tucked near their neighborhood.
“We’ve done very dramatic changes to the plan, except for that one issue,” Paul said. “And that unfortunately has been the focal point of so much of the dialogue.”
Cox agrees. “We’re waiting on this thing to go to the city council, and the city council to make a decision,” he said. “Unless they want to significantly reduce the size of this grocery store, to something less than 20,000 square feet, I don’t see this happening.”
Neighbors have filed three protest petitions petitions that have been validated by city staff. That means the project will require a super majority for the City Council’s approval; it would take only three votes in opposition to kill it.