Trader Joe’s Fires Up Opposition
Residents of neighborhoods from College Park to Guilford College Road packed the fellowship hall at First Lutheran Church on West Friendly Avenue on Sunday, Jan. 19 – overwhelmingly to oppose the rezoning of land on the northwest corner of the intersection of West Friendly Avenue and Hobbs Road for a Trader Joe’s grocery store and a drugstore.
An association of neighborhoods called the Friendly Coalition is, for the second time, trying to defeat a rezoning request for commercial development on the site. The current request is expected to be heard by the Greensboro Zoning Commission on Feb. 10.
The organizational meeting drew former Greensboro Mayor Keith Holliday and Greensboro City Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffmann.
Holliday – who was recently appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to the state Board of Review for the Division of Employment Security – gave an incendiary speech against the rezoning request by CAP Development of Greenville, South Carolina.
Holliday told the group to stay united and not to compromise under any circumstances.
Holliday said that, based on his experience on the City Council, he thought CAP Development would exploit any disagreement among neighbors.
“They want to give the councilmembers a reason to vote yes,” he said. “That’s what the councilmembers look for. We always look for a compromise, because you don’t want half the audience mad at you.”
CAP Development is represented by attorney Tom Terrell of Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP. Terrell, who was not at the meeting, said that Holliday’s opposition to controversial rezonings was a new development. He said, “Keith supported numerous controversial rezonings when he was mayor.”
Asked why he thought Holliday opposed this rezoning request, Terrell said simply, “It’s near him.” Holliday lives on Northline Avenue near the property.
The Friendly Coalition is against CAP Development’s rezoning request, just as it was against a previous rezoning request by Regency Centers Corp., which dropped its attempt to get the land rezoned two years ago, before the request made it to the Zoning Commission.
But speakers said they were against more than the specific proposals. They argued that the two miles of West Friendly Avenue between Hobbs Road and Muirs Chapel Road is the last major commercially undeveloped residential thoroughfare in Greensboro, and should remain so.
That two-mile stretch of West Friendly Avenue is lined by residences and churches, broken only by the Friendly Holden Building on the northeast corner of the intersection with Holden Road, and A To Z Shoe Repair at 5004 Friendly Ave., a business that was grandfathered in when it was annexed into Greensboro.
CAP Development plans to build two buildings on the land. Regency Centers planned to build four.
Holliday said some councilmembers may see the smaller number of buildings as a compromise and want to vote for it on that basis.
“One person’s opinion,” he said. “Do not back off one inch.”
Abuzuaiter said she was against the rezoning request, but Hoffmann, who lives at on Folkestone Drive, across the street and a block west of the proposed development, has said she is neutral so far and described the proposal in terms very like those Holliday said he feared.
In December, Hoffmann said, “This developer is a much better developer who has really studied the property and is keeping an acre-and-a-half buffer with a 150-foot setback on Hobbs Road.” And Councilmember Mike Barber, who lives within 500 yards of the site, called the proposal “a far better offer than the previous one.”
Scott Kinsey, one of the three co-chairs of the Friendly Coalition steering committee, said such details didn’t matter.
“Our committee does not support any rezoning,” Kinsey said. “We get the question all the time: “What do you want?” Well, we don’t want any rezoning. We want traditional single-family zoning.”
As of December, CAP Development had contracted to purchase five parcels totaling 5.7 acres, contingent on the rezoning request being successful. The news of the day to the coalition members was that the company had put a one-acre sixth parcel under contract, to the rear of the site and backing onto new and expensive houses on Hobbs Landing Court. That brought the size of the proposed development to 6.7 acres.
“That lot is now under contract,” Kinsey said. “So it is the same six lots that were under contract two years ago, and the same neighborhoods are affected.”
The Trader Joe’s name is harder to fight than other businesses might be. The grocery chain has a cult-like following. CAP Development has not announced the tenants for the development, but sources familiar with the project have said it is a Trader Joe’s and, most likely, a Walgreens drugstore.
Kinsey and co-chair Greg Brown referred to the tenants of the proposed development merely as “Retail A” and “Retail B.”
Kinsey said the identity of the tenants wouldn’t matter once the property was rezoned. He said, “There’s no guarantee that Trader Joe’s would come, and there’s no guarantee that Trader Joe’s would stay.”
The Friendly Coalition is very well organized. Members Alan and Betty Atwell, who live on Audubon Drive, two blocks from the proposed stores, said the group has about 300 people on its mailing list, but that some of those are neighborhood captains who have their own mailing lists.
Alan Atwell said, “Several thousand.”
The speakers, and the mood of the audience, were overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, opposed to any compromise. A couple of speakers suggested compromise, which drew Holliday’s Churchillian call to fight to the end.
One woman asked if the group should ask the city for a compromise, such as a multifamily townhouse development. She said, “Is that so bad?”
Kinsey replied that the group couldn’t afford to send mixed messages to the Zoning Commission, or the City Council, to which the losers before the Zoning Commission will almost certainly appeal.
Kinsey said neighbors would file a protest petition if the Zoning Commission approves the rezoning request. A protest petition would require seven of the nine members of the City Council to vote for the request for it to be approved.
One man asked if CAP Development was willing to limit night trash pickups and deliveries. Kinsey said he thought so.
“Bless their little hearts,” one woman murmured sardonically.
CAP Development has requested that the land be rezoned from Residential (R-5) to Conditional District-Commercial-Medium (CD-CM). The request was on the agenda for the Zoning Commission’s January meeting, but Terrell asked that the request be put off until the Feb. 10 meeting to give the developer time to negotiate with opponents.
No representative of CAP Development, and in fact no one at all, spoke in favor of the development.
The Friendly Coalition’s leaders said that, if they lose the rezoning battle before the City Council, they will challenge the rezoning in court based on covenants on the properties that require them to remain residential.
“We are prepared to take legal action if we need to,” Kinsey said. “We don’t think it’s necessary now, but if you remember from the last time, there are restrictive deeds and covenants on these properties, and we will take legal action if necessary to enforce them.”
CAP Development has offered numerous conditions to the proposed conditional zoning district, including eliminating many of the uses normally allowed in commercial medium district zoning, limiting the size of the two buildings to 16,000 and 20,000 square feet, agreeing to a 55-foot setback from Friendly Avenue and limiting access to one driveway on Friendly Avenue and one on Hobbs Road.
“This is not a shopping center,” Terrell said later. “Neighbors keep referring to this as a shopping center. This is two moderate sized residential-sized buildings in a very green setting. The buildings themselves will cover less than 10 percent of the site. In fact, two acres is designated as a non-disturb area. At least one-third of the site will be in grass and trees.”
Those provisions are not proposed as conditions on the new zoning, but as part of the site plan, which Terrell said would be incorporated into the rezoning.
BY Paul C. Clark
January 23, 2014
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