Chain Store Storms the Gateway to Carrboro

Catherine Adamson's picture

The intersection of Alabama Avenue and Jones Ferry Road is the first impression of Carrboro for visitors entering town from Highway 54. It is important to the Central Business District and the Farmer's Market that this section of Jones Ferry Rd makes a good first impression. This is the Gateway to Carrboro.

Alabama Avenue is a historically African American neighborhood. It is a pleasant, quiet, tree-covered residential street. Many families have lived on the street for generations; a few are new arrivals. The residents range in age from young children to retirees. Most of us are homeowners and some of us are owners or managers of local small businesses.

Raleigh-based Stronach Properties is proposing construction of an 8,000 square foot Family Dollar store on our street. All the trees that shield our neighborhood from Jones Ferry Rd would be cut, including many old hardwoods. An ephemeral stream would be paved over. The rainwater it would normally filter would be diverted around the lot and discharged into a ditch. We will be overwhelmed with traffic, including 18-wheeler delivery trucks arriving daily. There will be bright parking lot lights at night, loud noises before sunrise, and the smell of a dumpster 40 feet from our neighbor’s bedroom window. The peace and harmony of our close-knit community would be shattered.

In addition to these problems, there is also a public safety issue. The NC Department of Transportation recently completed a traffic study on the adjoining section of Jones Ferry Road. They recommended a road diet including medians and a crosswalk near the intersection of Jones Ferry and Davie. These changes will greatly improve road safety in the area, however they are still far in the future. In the meantime, crossing from the bus stop or surrounding apartment complexes to the proposed store will be unsafe.

Because the stream buffer on the site cannot be destroyed without a variance from the requirements of the Carrboro Land Use Ordinance, the Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing to decide if the project may proceed. At the same hearing, they will decide whether to allow the developer to clear cut the site and reduce the required number of parking spaces, so that the over-sized building can fit on this small lot.

The developer has resisted even small changes to the site design. The Town of Carrboro has repeatedly asked them to consider moving the dumpster and loading dock to the opposite side of the building, to shield the neighborhood from the sights and sounds of garbage pick-up and tractor-trailer deliveries. The developer refused, citing the need for giant trucks to maneuver to the loading dock. Their representative claimed that the current design is the only configuration of the lot that will make it possible to fit such large vehicles into such a cramped space.

It is clear that this store would be a poor fit to Carrboro. Our town prides itself on racial justice and progressive labor policy. Family Dollar has a long history of labor lawsuits filed against it by employees for unpaid overtime and wrongful firing. Stronach Properties touts the flow of taxes to the town from this development. However, any sales tax revenues generated by the store for the Town of Carrboro would likely cannibalize revenues from thrift stores nearby, such as the Dollar General located just one mile further along Highway 54. The Board of Adjustment should reject the variance and SUP requested by Stronach Properties for this development.

Please support us at the public hearing (Wednesday, May 16th, 7.30PM at Town Hall) and by talking with your friends about upholding the values of Carrboro. Visit us at GatewayToCarrboro.org to learn more about our fight to protect our little neighborhood.

[Adapted from a letter in the May 10, 2012, edition of the Carrboro Citizen.—Editors]

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17 Comments

Damon Seils's picture

Planning Board recommendation

In a special meeting on Wednesday evening, the Planning Board adopted the following recommendation for the Board of Adjustment:

Carrboro Vision 2020 policy 3.1 states, "In the interest of environmental preservation, new commercial development must minimize negative environmental impact, it must emphasize appropriate buffers, and it must not compromise the integrity of established neighborhoods." The site plan for a Family Dollar at 100 Alabama Avenue describes a development that would have a substantial environmental impact; place a loading dock and utilities in proximity to residential uses; and wedge a large, high-volume retail establishment into a comparatively small lot that has long served to buffer a quiet residential area from nearby commercial uses. Moreover, the Planning Board questions whether the proposed development, given the proposed use, can be conformed reasonably to the size and shape of the property to avoid compromising the integrity of the neighborhood. As designed, the 8,000 sf retail operation is not a "neighborhood business" or a reasonable use of the site. For these reasons, the Planning Board believes that the development as proposed, "will not be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located" (Land Use Ordinance, Section 15-54).Given the applicant's inability to address these concerns from our October 21, 2011 suggestions, the Planning Board recommends the Board of Adjustment deny the applicant's request for a Special Use Permit for the site. Though the applicant did make small changes to the plan and should be acknowledged for doing so, the Planning Board is convinced the project is not an acceptable fit for this location.The project is unsuitable for the site in four particular ways. First, it will not be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located; second, it would require substantial deviation from regulations designed to make development of sites like this sensitive to their environmental constraints; third, the development would have adverse impacts on public health and safety; fourth, with the impact of the first three points, this project may cause substantial injury to the value of adjoining properties. Further elaboration of the first three points follows:1. The development will not be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located
  • While the developer made conscious effort to "soften" the character of the structure, effort was not made to scale it appropriately for the site. Nor was effort made to enhance this gateway to Carrboro by developing a significant design that speaks to the character of this town.
  • Placement of loading/unloading areas and refuse collection facilities in close proximity to residential uses will disturb an established neighborhood and will devalue adjacent and nearby properties.
  • The need for 18-wheel delivery vehicles to make frequent deliveries to the store makes it clear that this high-volume retail use is not compatible with the existing zoning of a "Neighborhood Business". The scale of this project is not a match to the scale of the surrounding neighborhood.
  • The project relies on Neville Road as secondary access to the site, despite the total unsuitability of this single lane gravel road for anything more than occasional neighborhood vehicular use.

2. The development will not be in general conformity with the Land Use Plan or Vision 2020

  • The social justice concerns of the neighborhood are overwhelming and compelling. In addition to the arguments made by residents, approving an SUP for this project would be against explicit and implicit principles in Carrboro's Vision 2020, and would negatively affect the neighborhood's health, safety, and financial and social sustainability.
  • The project is inconsistent with Vision 2020 policy 3.1: "...new commercial development must minimize negative environmental impact, it must emphasize appropriate buffers, and it must not compromise the integrity of established neighborhoods."
  • The project is inconsistent with Vision 2020 policy 2.11: "Infill development should take place in a manner that...enhances neighboring areas."
  • Extensive disruption to the stream buffer on the site is inappropriate from both a social justice perspective and an environmental perspective. It is not that the lot is unsuitable for development. A smaller, lower-impact project can be built there and be profitable for a developer while being consistent with Carrboro's environmental regulations and adopted plans. It is especially important that Carrboro demand environmental integrity and consistency with adopted plans in and around its lower-income, minority neighborhoods.
  • The applicant's own responses to the planning board's previous comments, illustrate the site is not large enough for this project. Their comments revised on May 7, 2012 reflect this. (See responses 2, 3, and 4.)

3. This development will create negative impacts on health, safety, and welfare

  • The removal of all trees from the site would eliminate the natural sound screening which the site currently provides to the neighborhood, and no provision has been made to address this. Additionally, noise from dumpster use, regular deliveries made by 18-wheel vehicles, and traffic from the arterial road would be unmitigated.
  • The lack of adequate crosswalks and sidewalks to enable safe pedestrian and bus transportation to the site, as well as DOT's standards for the placement of driveway cuts to the site directly from 5-to-6 lane Jones Ferry Road, make a high-volume retail purpose for this site both unsafe and impractical.
  • Building this project on this site relies on unsafe pedestrian behaviors.
  • Applicant responses 8, 10, and 11 to previous planning board comments reinforce the concern that there is no safe pedestrian access to the site, but the applicant continues to rely on pedestrian accessibility to justify the request for reduction in parking.
  • The lighting plan dramatically exceeds the maximum lumen values recommended for outdoor lighting in Section 15-242 of the Land Use Ordinance. Lighting above the recommended level would be unsuitable for a property in close proximity to a residential area, would devalue adjoining and nearby properties, and would be inconsistent with the purpose and intent of recent improvements in the town's standards for outdoor lighting. It is not sufficient simply to address light spill. Town standards for outdoor lighting are inspired by the model ordinance of the International Dark-Sky Association, which aims to reduce glare and skyglow, as well as light spill.

For the same reasons we recommend denial of the permit application, the planning board intends to make a separate recommendation to the Board of Aldermen questioning whether the B-3 zoning is still appropriate for this site. This site has changed since it was originally zoned B-3, given there is no longer direct driveway access to it from Jones Ferry Road, as a result of DOT's reconfiguration of the intersection. Access from Jones Ferry would keep vehicular traffic out of the neighborhood.

 

Dan Coleman's picture

Kudos to planning board

Whatever one might think of the Family Dollar proposal, you have to be impressed with the PB recommendations. They've come up with a very thoughtful, well-constructed, detailed, and persuasive set of comments.

jstrope's picture

Personally, I'm going to be

Personally, I'm going to be sad to see yet another failure to develop this side of Carrboro. I'm not really a fan of this store nor its plan for the site, but the status quo in this area of town is also not necessarily ideal.

I wonder if you might

I wonder if you might elaborate on that.  As I take your comment at face value, I think that a Family Dollar at this location would just exacerbate the issues that you find less than ideal.

jstrope's picture

Not sure what there is to

Not sure what there is to elaborate on. Personally, I'd like to see this area of Carrboro be developed more. While a dollar store wouldn't be first on my list, I don't expect the owners of a piece of property to actually consult my list.

Not exactly picturesque now

I'm not saying the proposed project is a good idea, but I wouldn't lead an agrument against it with this:

"It is important to the Central Business District and the Farmer's Market that this section of Jones Ferry Rd makes a good first impression."

I like seeing the small remaining woods on the site in question. It reminds me of when I was a kid and the entire interchange was woods -- no apartments, even. Though I enjoy the funny signs the Morningstar people put up, it's a stretch to say this "gateway" is currently making a "good first impression" on visitors since chains lke the Pantry (now BP), Burger King, Food Lion and Kerr Drug (now Rite-Aid) "stormed" this intersection a long time ago; and they cut down the trees to make apartments.

The gateway argument distracts from the more compelling arguments.

It's my understanding that

It's my understanding that the Alabama Avenue neighborhood wasn't ecstatic about Morningstar Storage opening, either.  The lot that Family Dollar wants to clear cut would ensure that the views they enjoy from their windows would be full of traffic, pedestrians, delivery semis, and yes, those witty Morningstar sign messages.

Catherine Adamson's picture

Holding on to what picturesque we can

Thanks for this comment.  For those of us who live in the neighborhood, it is a continual challenge to remind people who see only the Pantry and apartment complexes that this area has an impact on how all of Carrboro is viewed.  We have to work with what we have.The land use ordinances do not permit the town to deny an owner their right to develop on the basis that no development at all should occurr there.  Though that is a compelling argument person-to-person, local regulations accord it no standing in the quasi-judicial proceedings of the Board of Adjustment.  Which leaves us with points regarding the LUO (which is quite hard to write about compellingly for a general audience)...and the gateway argument. Woods would give a "good impression", as would a well-sited and well-designed development.  Past developments in the area have not yielded good results but this is not a reason to write the area off.  No neighborhood in Carrboro should be treated as though it is "blighted" and not deserving of the best planning.  If it currently feels hollow and cold (as one alderman commented), then we will work to make it better.  I think the proposed road diet will go a long way, if we can hold off ill-advised projects like this one. 

What would you like to see?

Catherine,I think you are more likely to be successful in your cause if you can provide a vision for what you would like to see instead.  While I understand that there are surely some individuals who do not want a Family Dollar and would prefer to see woods there in perpetuity, that may not be realistic as development pressure for that land will continue to exist even if Family Dollar is turned down. Assuming there is private development on this site, what would you like to see occur there? What types of development (uses, building forms, materials, etc) would add to the neighborhood rather than detract from it?

Catherine Adamson's picture

Just speaking for me here...

Thanks for that suggestion, Patrick.  It's refreshing to take some time to dream on this, after months of working to learn the ordinances so I can communicate in the language of planning and work inside a process which permits only objections and not alternatives.How about a commercial kitchen for rent or co-op?  Since this site is quite close to the Farmer's Market, it might be attractive for food business ventures that need to rent a licensed kitchen in order to cook foods for sale at the market.  A facility like that would cater to the growing local food sector that helps put Carrboro on the national map.  Food trucks might spend more of their money in town instead of retiring to home bases in Durham. I'd use it myself - I have been wanting to produce preserves for market but since I have cats the state Ag dept rightly forbids me to use my own kitchen!  But this is just one dream of mine.Thinking more broadly and ignoring my very personal urban/agrarian fantasies, how about a child care or elder day care center? A small-office building?  A day laborer center, as I understand an agreement regarding the Barnes St. site has not been reached yet?  These are all possibilities that we have discussed in the neighborhood at our meetings over the last few months.  They have in common that they do not draw high vehicle traffic and serve a community (rather than a corporate) need.I would like to see building forms and materials that actually blend in with residential neighborhoods, or that reflect a sense of Carrboro's style, rather than the dictates of a national chain.  For instance, there's a doctor's office on Fidelity on a B3 lot that is a great neighbor to the surrounding residential lots.  I love the shapes and curves in the design too.  Here's a page with an image of the front: http://carrboropediatrics.com/about.html.  Now go look at the Google street view to see what this site USED to look like.  I don't think many people would have assumed that good design was a "fit" for that lot, but it worked very well.Sloped roofs rather than flat, use of brick and wood (and the complete absence of metal siding), a parking lot situated away from the road, good sound-damping fencing around the development - these are all good features.  Ideally the developer would take the time and effort to develop a plan that can preserve as many of the large trees as possible.  It would cost more during construction, but yield instant shade for the building to reduce cooling costs.  I'm glad to see that the Planning Board supports our interest in getting this lot rezoned.  B1 or O would probably be more appropriate, as these zones each limit high-volume uses and require non-industrial design. 

Damon Seils's picture

Re: What would you like to see?

Patrick is right that the people of Carrboro need to have a serious conversation about the future of this property and all of Jones Ferry Road. However, it's important to be aware that the Board of Adjustment's upcoming decisions about the variance request and the permit application will be guided strictly by the town's land use ordinance.The ordinance describes the conditions under which the Board of Adjustment may grant a variance. Although the board is under no obligation to grant a variance, it may do so according to certain criteria. The ordinance goes into some detail on these points.Likewise, the ordinance describes the circumstances under which the board may deny a permit application. The board can decide against issuing a permit if the development will endanger public health or safety; or will injure the value of surrounding properties; or will not be in harmony with the surrounding area; or will not conform with plans officially adopted by the Board of Aldermen.

Claire_Hermann's picture

Thanks, Carrborites, for standing up for our Town's values!

Thank you, Catherine, for this great summary of our neighborhood's concerns, and, thank you, Damon, for sharing the clear and thoughful recommendations of the planning advisory board.As one of the newest members of the Alabama Avenue community (my family has been there 7 years), I am glad to see support from our neighbors and our leaders. Our community deserves the same economic and environmental justice that the rest of Carrboro enjoys. The towns plans and codes make it clear that this business is not a good fit for our street, It's also not in accordance with the Town's own plans and regulations, which are designed to encourage appropriate and sustainable development that complements the Town's vision.It's clear that the residents of Carrboro are asking the town to stand by it's values - we've had the support of our state Senator, Ellie Kinnaird; our town advisory boards; our churches; and the hundreds of Carrborites who have signed our survey, come to marches, given guidance, and worked beside us over the last six months. I hope to see many of these folks at the hearing on Wednesday night at 7 at the Town Hall! 

Damon Seils's picture

"Reasonable use"

The public hearing on the Family Dollar project has been continued to next Wednesday, when members of the public will have an opportunity to speak. After 3 hours of presentation from the applicants last night, you had to wonder if they were deliberately trying to wear down the many town residents in attendance, or were laying the groundwork for a potential lawsuit if they don't get their way, or both.One of the highlights of the evening: There are 76 permissible uses for properties zoned B-3 in Carrboro, including a variety of both residential and commercial uses. Yet, the applicants asserted last night that they can make no reasonable use of the property without a major variance from the requirements of the town's land use ordinance.