Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill council questions ‘sea of parking’ in Wegmans plan

An artist’s rendering shows Wegmans Food Market as it would be seen from U.S. 15-501 North in front of the Hardee’s restaurant on Old Durham Road in Chapel Hill, NC. The developer would upgrade the streets surrounding the 14-acre site, including the service road in the foreground.
An artist’s rendering shows Wegmans Food Market as it would be seen from U.S. 15-501 North in front of the Hardee’s restaurant on Old Durham Road in Chapel Hill, NC. The developer would upgrade the streets surrounding the 14-acre site, including the service road in the foreground. Contribution

Town Council members agreed Monday the developer of a proposed Wegmans Food Market should do more to mitigate a “sea of parking” between U.S. 15-501 and Old Durham Road.

Make a stronger case for more parking when the project returns, council member Donna Bell said. Council member Michael Parker suggested a parking deck could help, leaving room to add stores, while Mayor Pam Hemminger recommended using raised banks, or berms, near the highway to improve the landscape, block the view of parked cars and control noise.

It also could lower the parking lot’s temperature, she said.

“We are in the South, it is hot, so we want to make sure that there’s some shade in the parking,” Hemminger said. “I really encourage you to think about what that feels like down here when we are a hundred degrees, especially with such a large parking area.”

The town’s Community Design Commission had similar concerns at its Nov. 1 review. Wegmans’ concept plan shows 770 parking spaces around the 130,000-square-foot store and on three lots across Old Durham Road. Performance AutoMall plans to leave the 14-acre site for southern Durham next year.

A concept plan is not an official application. The council’s comments could be used to revise the project, which faces more hearings before being approved.

CDC member Chris Berndt said her ideas weren’t shared with the council. One – to rotate the building toward U.S. 15-501 and put parking behind it – would create an active gateway to Chapel Hill, more outdoor seating and green spaces, she said.

Dan Aken, Wegmans director of real estate and site development, said they looked at that, but the proposed layout best fit the pie-shaped site. Outdoor dining is planned outside the cafe, on the U.S. 15-501 side of the building, he said.

Wegmans employees could use up to 150 of the proposed parking spaces, Aken said; they expect to fill the rest with local and regional shoppers.

Chapel Hill and Orange County have offered to pay a $4 million tax incentive if Wegmans creates 185 full-time jobs and 413 part-time jobs over five years and meets annual property and sales tax revenue goals. The town and county each would pay half using those new tax revenues.

The $30 million project could generate over $26 million in property tax revenues and up to $1.5 million in sales tax revenues each year, officals said.

Some citizens have asked why Wegmans – a nearly $8 billion, family-owned business based in Rochester, New York – needs incentives. The company is not getting incentives to build stores in Cary and Raleigh.

The incentive was needed to help Wegmans pay for costly environmental cleanup and roadwork to mitigate complex traffic around the site, said Steve Brantley, the county’s economic development director.

“We knew we were competing against Durham. There is a site in Durham of exactly the same acreage, a half-mile (over) the county line on 15-501,” Brantley said. “We knew we were competing against some Wake County sites,” where developers had more land and options for financing the cost of development.

An official application would include a full traffic impact analysis, town staff said. One expected change is a concrete median on Old Durham Road to prevent left turns and traffic crossing over from Scarlett Drive to the service road.

Flashing lights could be installed at a planned pedestrian crossing on Old Durham Road, and paths could link pedestrians to nearby businesses, neighborhoods and a future light-rail station.

Council member Ed Harrison advocated for a main entrance off U.S. 15-501, while demanding the project not interfere with a decades-old effort to add bike lanes to Old Durham Road. It’s also important to consider neighbors, Council member Jessica Anderson said, echoing a resident who spoke.

“I think from what we’ve been told, it’s obvious that Wegmans is going to be a good corporate citizen,” said neighbor Joyce Garrett, “and the fact that there’s a tremendous number of jobs and tax revenue generated is impressive, and the facility seems that it will be a first-class destination.”

However, “there’s a lot of people who live there, and this will significantly impact their quality of life,” she added.

News and Observer reporter Kathryn Trogdon discusses how Wegmans Food Markets is looking to open its first North Carolina stores in Cary. Video by Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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