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Developers pitch Publix/mixed-use development to skeptical North Durham neighbors

As we speculated here on Saturday, developers are indeed proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center and residential development in North Durham.

Neighbors got their first chance to offer feedback in a meeting tonight at Easley Elementary School. And unsurprisingly, residents in the largely-suburban environs north of the Eno River weren't hesitant to share a range of concerns -- notably traffic, but also including worries over property values, impact to area character, and duplication of commercial activity elsewhere on Guess and Roxboro.

An overflow crowd that appeared to number 250 residents or more strained to hear updates from Florida-based developer Tom Vincent from Halvorsen Development, Morningstar land-use attorney Patrick Byker, and a number of project team members working on traffic counts, site planning and other topics.

Publix-meeting

A real estate program manager from Florida-based grocer Publix confirmed their intent to open a store on site, while staff from Cimarron Homes confirmed they would plan up to 70 residential units on the site in keeping with mixed-use requirements.

We weren't able to take an exacting account of opinions, thanks to standing-room only ergonomics and a back-of-room vantage point; if we were to take a swag, the crowd was generally as much as three parts opposition for every one part proponent and every one part what we might call "accommodator" -- the latter being residents who saw lemons but posited lemonade, like asking the developer for extra traffic improvements or wondering about possible help to property values.

Byker projected the project won't make it through City Council's legislative process for between six and twelve months, while more detailed design work takes place. Yet neighbors are already girding for an opposition campaign, with literature from one opposition leader encouraging residents to begin contacting Durham Planning Commission staff with their thoughts.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vincent, after apologizing to an already-hostile crowd upon a late arrival due to travel delays from Ft. Lauderdale, pledged that this would be the first of multiple neighborhood meetings, and stated that in thirty years in developing shopping centers, he knew there needed to be back and forth with residents on any development.

He said that Halvorsen had developed more than ninety Publix centers in three decades, and that while the developer and Publix were working on T&C's for their lease deal, Halvorsen was committed to developing the site only if a Publix were the anchor tenant.

Responding to the audience's question of why a fifth grocery store was needed with two Food Lions, a Harris Teeter and a Kroger nearby, Vincent (to some jeers) pointed out what he described as Publix's unique shopping experience. He went on to describe a study area of 35,000 residents in the target market, over 17,000 of whom he described as living to the north of the proposed site and therefore other existing grocery stores.

Vincent argued that a development such as that proposed wouldn't draw new traffic to the area, but would instead be a destination for the existing residents who already pass by the site, adding that the development team's big concerns were the "turning geometries," lane stacking/queuing, and other measures needed to ensure that the project didn't contribute to traffic tie-ups.

A common theme of concern among neighbors, however, was the problematic nature of even the existing level of traffic already in the area, particularly along two-lane winding Latta Rd., which one resident pointed out was (along with Milton to the north and Horton to the south) one of only three east-west bisecting roads, and one that is curvy and narrow to begin with.

Several residents described living in the area since the late 1990s and having witnessed traffic grow worse almost as soon as they arrived. 

For his part, Vincent described his own surprise at the state of Latta Rd. in terms of road condition and volumes, but pledged a desire to work with neighbors to make any development compatible.

While a few residents talked about opportunities to negotiate sidewalk, traffic calming, turn lanes, signalization and other improvements, the majority of the group tended to oppose the concept of a shopping center/mixed use development at the intersection, regardless of other changes.

A common refrain from residents: many said they chose to move to North Durham in order to get out of and away from the city, with many describing their area as bucolic and peaceful, expressing regret over any clear-cutting of a site for development (and concern at the idea of new, less-screening landscaping in its place), and of a love for what one resident described as the "intangibles" that led this to be a home for everyone from families to retirees.

It's dangerous to generalize about residents' demographics from a relatively short, crowded meeting like this one. With that caveat: the room tended towards a senior crowd, with a few families/middle-aged residents and fewer younger residents.

Generally, older residents seemed more likely to be opposed or concerned about the program; while many younger residents or more newly-arrived residents also were opposed, I'd wager that most of the supporters and accommodators were in this crowd.

Vincent stated that the assemblage is under contract though the sales have not closed -- we'd bet a Publix deli Cuban sandwich that there are options to buy that have out-clauses if entitlement to build isn't cleared up.

Speaking of the Florida chain: a representative from Publix's real estate group (replete with de rigueur Publix-green tie) noted that their department had approved this site for a store, and stated that a lease signing was being worked on. 

Byker noted that the site is currently zoned for residential with half-acre minimums, with a resident noting that rezoning in the area to allow for quarter-acre lots is fairly common. Because the site is within City limits and just below the much more restricted Northern Durham low-density tier, it's also allowed to have higher impervious surface levels than more northerly areas, which the developer team noted explained a great deal of their interest in this site.

And of course, there was a goodly bit of discussion as to how land use and the comprehensive plan play into the matter.

A resident pointed out that Durham's future land use plan calls for that lower-density development that Byker acknowledged for the site. But Byker noted that the UDO allows mixed-use throughout the City; in the case of a project like this one, Byker said that the developer could cluster a residential component with a minimum density of 4 units/acre in a part of the site and then add retail, commercial and the like elsewhere. 

Mixed use arose in Durham's UDO and other municipalities' planning documents as an attempt to avoid segregating residential, retail and commercial, all typically requiring car-based trips between them; the theory is that this reduces vehicular trips, though residents seemed skeptical of the development team's assertion that, besides internal traffic to the site, the retail component wouldn't draw new drivers to their area.

The proposal calls for the retail component on the western half of the site near Guess Rd., with the residential development by Cimarron Homes on the eastern side, adjacent to other neighborhood areas. Cimarron proposes the units to be a mix of townhomes and single-family homes, priced around the $200,000 price point.

Neighbors of these adjacent residential areas along Latta Rd., however, raised the most consistent and pointed concerns throughout the conversation:

  • Some neighbors noted pedestrian-vehicle accidents, and were concerned that while the development has to add sidewalks adjacent to it, there would not be sidewalks into their older developments, making it difficult and dangerous to walk to the retail area.
  • Several noted that their streets, like Greenough, were often used as cut-throughs for drivers looking to avoid Latta, Guess and other roads, or cutting to and from Northern High.
  • A couple of residents recalled the history of accidents at Easley Elementary before a road was signalized, and fretted that the traffic impact analysis might miss the school dismissal timeframe.

Property values were also a source of concern among residents, with concerns focusing on the project's ability to either diminish or improve property values, or on future tax values.

Local appraiser and former Durham Planning Commission member Jarvis Martin of the development team shared findings from three other area developments where shopping centers abut residential, and found that homes in all were selling at just below asking price in a reasonable time (75-120 days on market.)

To this observer, the selection of the new Food Lion center off NC 98 in eastern Durham County was an interesting comparison point, given Sherron Rd.'s resemblance to Latta and 98/Guess as similar thoroughfares. Martin also used Meadowmont and Governor's Village in Chatham as comparison points, to some relatively vocal disagreement from the crowd.

Several residents worried that the development could reduce their property values, although some argued that the presence of an upscale retailer could have an opposite effect -- "Guess Road is pretty trashy," one said, though several others lamented that the developers couldn't have picked an underutilized center like the Willowdaile center to rehab.

(For what it's worth: pure speculation on my part, but I did find it very interesting that Greensboro-based retailer The Fresh Market, with stores all around the eastern and central U.S., had no stores in Durham -- until, that is, shortly after Publix entered the North Carolina market. One can't help but wonder if the old Food Lion at University Dr./MLK Jr. Pkwy. would have been Publix's best entry point in Durham, and if The Fresh Market didn't snag it to lock up a potential Publix pad.)

Martin added that tax values would be impacted by the 2016 revaluations long before the mixed-use development opened, though acknowledging that future reappraisals could see local property tax assessments increase due to the new neighbor.

The development team promised to take concerns over traffic flows, landscaping and the like into consideration, with Vincent promising to meet with residents three, four or more additional times as needed to try and reach the best consensus possible.

If tonight's crowd is representative, some of the proposed project's neighbors may be interested in finding ways to improve existing local problems with the new build.

But a larger segment is quite happy with North Durham as it is, and didn't seem from tonight's meeting to be interested in seeing new retail on this site. And from the organization and skepticism to date, there's no doubt that a pitched fight to culminate in the Planning Commission and City Council is just getting started.

Comments

Corye Dunn

Well now I'm just lamenting that we could have had a Publix instead of a Fresh Market. Great coverage. Thanks.

BullCityEric

(Posted this elsewhere as well...) This seems like a NIMBY issue only. I'll take a Publix near me if they don't want it. I grew up on that side of town (my parents still live there) and that area has not seen the home value increases that the rest of Durham and the Triangle has seen. That area up through North Durham could benefit from some progress. To be honest I constantly hear people in that area complaining that they have to drive to shop, eat, etc.

Marg

This is much more than a NIMBY issue. This issue relates to commuter traffic that is already in place (if you do not live in this area you may not experience this daily), a year-long Elementary School and its impacted population, as well as a land use plan that does not call for this particular corner to be developed. In addition, if you saw the plan, you would notice that there is little "mix" in this "Mixed use" - one side is residential and one side is commercial; the commercial side includes three outparcels and two are slated for drive-through services. I live in the area and I have not heard complaints about having to drive to eat or shop. On the contrary, it seems that people moved into this area for the specific reason to be away from so much congestion. More than these issues, though, are the issues related to half a dozen large parcels within a mile which are developed and yet underutilized. Vacancy signs are everywhere. Why change the land use plans which were developed by the city professional planning staff with our tax dollars when the current commercial properties are underutilized? Why clear cut when shopping centers can be repurposed in the way that Starbucks did with two properties in this area and the way that Fresh market did with the Kmart on University Drive? I vote for smart land use, and not just building structures to say we built them, or to beneift the people who are the out of state developers and their team.

BullCityEric

You seem like a NIMBY to me. As mentioned my parents live there now and I grew up there and arguing traffic issues is laughable. That area of town has not seen much growth in home prices and needs some economic development. Just because you would like them to build on old commercial locations doesn't mean they have to. The well written story above explains the land use.

josie mcneil

One point I heard last night that I disagree with (there were many) is that the City and DOT will not do anything about our current traffic issues. We need a developer to make road improvements. This is simply wrong information. For the neighbors on the north side of Latta, if commuters are using your streets as cut through roads, you can organize and petition to have traffic slowing speed bumps installed. The City Manager's Office can direct you how to do this. You can petition the police department to have officers investigate. Talk with the police about a Neighborhood Watch designation. I believe this can be done for individual sectors of a neighborhood if for some reason you cannot organize your whole neighborhood. Both the Office of the City Manager and the Durham Police (we are in District 2) are professional and responsive. We do not need developers to address these issues.

Jeff

had to look up NIMBY as I guess I'm not very acronym savvy... NIMBY (an acronym for the phrase "Not In My Back Yard"), or Nimby, is a pejorative characterization of opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development because it is close to them, often with the connotation that such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be further away.

Anyway, based on the definition and having attended the meeting along with many other of my neighbors, I respectfully disagree. The issues go MUCH further and deeper than "a pejorative characterization of opposition". Those who reside in the North Durham area as was primarily expressed by the majority in attendance, clearly and concisely have stated that, "WE do NOT want or NEED another grocery store, restaurants, or housing as proposed"; nor do we need the added traffic and other probable ill effects that this could produce. This statement, regardless of what proximity to our neighborhood, holds true. For those who do not reside in or near the 27712 zip code, you are very welcome to invite Publix along this developer to their neighborhood and thoroughly enjoy all that that entails.

As for myself (as I anticipate others to do), I will be petitioning our Durham representation requesting that they refuse rezoning this parcel as mixed-use development. Additionally, the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers will be contacted in an effort to bring light to the (very potential) ill effects on the Eno and aquifer.

Carolyn

I have lived in Northern Durham for the past 18 yrs and strongly support the development, while it isn't quite in my backyard (I first lived further up Guess Rd.) I feel strongly that we need a little more growth in the area and a center with a Publix anchoring it would be a huge step in the right direction. The only "good" grocery store is the Harris Teeter at Willodale and that place gets far too busy.
I also drive guess road to and from work on a daily basis and do not feel that it is problematic with regards to congestion. Roxboro Rd is far more problematic.

BullCityEric

Well, we almost made it a full 24 hours before someone opposed to the project played the environmental card.

Julia

I attended the meeting last night and am completely against this development. We sought out North Durham because we WANTED to be as far away from the sprawl of dollar stores and strip malls as possible. It is such a relief to drive past all of that and arrive at some natural beauty. To see this land cleared and packed full of yet another CVS with drive-thru and whatever else will end up there, is just a shame.
Within 4 miles of our home (we live within view of the proposed development), we already have a brand-new Harris Teeter, 2 Kroger stores, 2 Food Lions, and Costco. And if I want to support some local or specialty market, I am more than happy to drive across town to do it. The majority of us drive anyway (we aren't on the bus line and don't have sidewalks).
Our feeling is that if this permit is approved, the wooded sites surrounding this area will logically be next. A precedent would be set, and the sprawl will just continue north indefinitely. With Crooked Creek and the Eno River so close by, do we really want more impermeable surfacing for the convenience of another box store?
I also don't agree with people throwing out the acronym NIMBY. It may be true that for the people who would step out of their home to be greeted by the glaring lights of a Publix parking lot, it feels especially important, but MY point is that it shouldn't be in ANYONE'S backyard! That's why we have zoning. In a preplanned mixed-use community like Meadowmont, people know what they are buying into. Our neighborhood is zoned residential, and we simply want to keep it that way. Build commercial properties in commercial zones, where the quality of people's lives and the real (and perceived) value of their homes is not at stake.

AG

I was at the hearing last night and brought up the issue related to the Future Land Use Plan not supporting a commercial development on that corner. I was less than impressed with the project team and their responses to valid concerns.

To start with, they came to the event less than prepared and had very little to show community residents. No proposed site plans, no renderings, no examples of similar developments they've done in other parts of the country. Nothing. It is very difficult to respond properly to a development proposal without any details. At a minimum, they should have presented a conceptual site plan which shows how the Publix grocery store and associated parking fits on the site and its proximity to existing roads, homes, Easley ES and proposed residential. Trust me, they have a site plan, they just didn't want to show it this early in the process for fear of even more backlash.

A project like this could be successful, but only if done right. Given the relatively lower land prices in the proposed area I'm less than convinced that the developers are willing to make the type of investment needed to really make a project like this context sensitive. Are they willing to invest in sustainable materials and landscaping, traffic calming measures, a town green, or other investments that would help a project like this succeed and enhance the area? As it stands now, I'm against the project until I can be convinced otherwise.

James Kempski

With a projected population growth expected in Durham we need more development. This will force the city and the county to widen and improve roads. I am sure all can agree that Roxboro rd at 4:30-7pm is a nightmare and needs much improvement. As our county and city improves so do our schools, quality of life, better city and county services. As far as another alternative to the kroger and food lion chains we need a chain that does not have dirty stores, shopping carts hitting cars in the parking lot, asking a question and getting an "I don't know" answer plus all around rudeness. With publix you have a clean store, great customer service and a higher standard. I urge anyone to go to a publix and see for themselves.


Karrie Comatas

I was at the meeting last night and also am against this project. My parents don't live here, I do. So I get to have an opinion. I don't understand why BullCityEric is whining about talk of environmental impact. That's one of the many issues that needs to be considered. Unless of course, you are of the mindset that the world is here just for your use and disposal. And how is traffic talk laughable? Again, something else that is very important in this discussion. I am for a Publix or a Trader Joe's for that matter, just put it in one of the vacant or low performing, ageing locations we already have. They can use the Food Lion on the corner of Latta and Roxboro. Fix that intersection and for their insatiable desire for a drive through (why, I have no idea) use that empty Burger King (since they removed a local restaurant to put up a McDonald's..)

JG

I was at the meeting last night. In the beginning, I thought everybody there, was against this development. As the meeting went on, folks were willing to listen, what the developer had to offer.
I take Guess, Latta, Roxborro, Horton on a daily basis. I'm surprised to see how much more congested Roxborro is in comparison to Guess.
That corner of Latta and Guess is kind of creepy after dark. Even before this development talks, I was thinking something needs to happen to that corner. 3rd fire for the same house made me convince that somebody needs to develop that corner. Blaring light from a Publix Store is a welcome sight(admitting, I'm not next door to it). We might get a improved and widened Latta Road out of this.

BullCityEric

Karrie quote: "My parents don't live here, I do. So I get to have an opinion."

I guess caring for my retired parents living off of Social Security that are right there in 27712 and I help them with tasks and errands does not allow me to have "an opinion". I guess living in 27712 for ~20 years of my life does not allow me to have "an opinion". I guess still living in Durham and being a tax paying citizen does not allow me to have "an opinion". I guess growing up in that area and open to moving back there one day of the area can rebound does not allow me to have "an opinion".

Got it.

Durhamite

BullCityEric, you are entitled to your opinion, but when you come in here being disrespectful to other valid opinions that differ from your own and essentially bullying people, that's not going to be well-received. We've heard your opinions loud and clear and I'm sure you have something better to do than continue to pick on people in an online comment forum. Let's all behave like adults.

Barb

Sorry, I can't support this project. It's right next to Easley school, which already has bad pick up/drop off/bus traffic. Also, the Latta road side of the center would face several residential neighborhoods. You would be completely unable to turn out of Autumn or Green Oak drives. Most people I know live in North Durham because they enjoy the quiet, and we don't need another grocery store!

BullCityEric

Not bullying anyone and definitely not my intent. I feel bullied with the comment that my opinion is not valid but I will agree to drop that part of the discussion as I did not come here to troll.

I do have a serious question to ask. In the last 20 years has there been anything commercial built north of the Eno River on Guess/Roxboro/Cole Mill/etc.? I ask only because I can't think of anything. I am sure there is something I am forgetting so wanted to ask the board.

BC

I have lived in this area of Durham for almost 20 years now. Where as I'm sure people living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Publix development would not appreciate the added light at night, I see nothing wrong with having a little development out this way. Willowdale, even though someone has tried to improve it, still looks dated and has not one really good anchor store. Across the street from that is the Food Lion shopping center which is basically the same (that Food Lion is dirty and the employees all seem upset to be there). All of the development in Durham is either on the other side of town or downtown, if we don't get some development in this area of the City it will become more and more dated and no one will want to live here. Our housing prices will not increase even if Durham's housing market is hot. All who are caring for aging parents and not living in this part of the City, unless you want to live in your parent's home when they pass, we need this development to help the housing market, otherwise you will be holding a property that will not sell (or not for a price that you want).

I was not at the meeting last night, but if they do decide to put in a pharmacy (CVS or whatever) that's a good thing, yes they are everywhere, but if you wake up in the middle of the night sick and need something driving that extra bit to the Willowdale or Roxboro Rd. area is a long way or if you are elderly that extra bit is a long way. I would love to see this development happen, but that is just my opinion.

Scott Koon

By my count, it was about 150 people attended a public comment meeting at Easley Elementary School off Guess Road in northern Durham to consider a proposal to create a mixed-use commercial development on the southeast corner of the intersection of Guess and Latta Roads. The development proposal, which is in the early stages of the process, was offered by Tom Vincent from Halvorsen Holdings of Boca Raton and local attorney Patrick Byker of Morningstar Law Group. It appeared that many local stakeholders were represented, to include residents of Lattamoor, the entrance to which is located at the intersection under consideration, parents of Easley Elementary school students, area homeowners and the property owners who are seeking to sell to developers. The most vocal persons present appeared opposed to the development, with one woman calling out “You're not going to shove this down our throats!” Though proponents of development did not address this exclamation directly at the time, Mr. Vincent claimed that this was not their intent, saying “We will meet with you forever until we get a consensus.”

According to Mr. Byker, the proposal is for a mixed-use development featuring commercial development anchored by a Public grocery store, and approximately 60 to 70 townhouses and detached houses, to be built by Cimarron Homes. Several properties are currently under contract, contingent upon the rezoning of the proposed mixed-use plat. At this stage, several plans and assessments have been conducted in support of the proposal, to include topographic and tree surveys, environmental surveys, and a stormwater management plan, which includes a wet pond or bioretention area. The proposal would conform to city requirements of buffers and setbacks around perimeters and storefronts.

Local appraiser Jarvis Martin said he had conducted a study of other recent developments in Durham and the surrounding area and found that siting a grocery store did not have any negative impact on either the property values or the amount of time required to sell a home within a half mile of such a development. He said that his study found that Ravenstone, a development in eastern Durham he used as a comparison point, had houses selling for an average of 98% of the asking price, with homes selling within 75 days of being listed, on average. Critics immediately spoke out from the crowd, claiming that there is no comparison to be made between East Durham and North Durham. The crowd seemed generally unhappy, though whether this was because it is likely that the development would increase property values and therefore property taxes, or whether because it would decrease property values should they decide to relocate, it is impossible to say.

The developers also conducted a traffic study, which rated the current delay time caused by the signal at the intersection to be a “B” on a scale of A to F, and that the delay would likely only increase slightly. The crowd seemed generally skeptical of this claim, with several opining that they had observed that the observers conducting the traffic study had been asleep, and so they did not believe that the results were accurate. It was claimed that the results of the traffic study were consistent with the data already generated on a regular basis by the city, that it would be possible to determine from the data whether car counters had actually failed to properly execute their duties. These claims were greeted with disbelief, discontent and general grumpiness.

Both proponents and opponents of development seemed unified on one point, which was that Latta Road is a nightmare, a winding, treacherous stretch that is severely overburdened by its status as the only east-west road between Milton and Horton. It was noted by many that this road has been problematic since at least the late 1990's, and that it seems unlikely that anything would ever be done to address the problem. Proponents of the development said that the plan calls for an additional left turn lane at the intersection of Latta and Guess and an additional right turn lane, and that the main entrance and egress points of the development would be situated on Guess Road, and that the surface traffic component of the proposal would be subject to the determination of the Congestion Management staff at Division 5 of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, who would determine whether any additional signaling would be required. Skeptics seemed dissatisfied by this.

One concern that proponents of the development seemed confident in dismissing was the idea that this development could be subject to a bait-and-switch, that, once the mixed-use development was approved, Publix might pull out and the property might be anchored by another store. Tom Vincent from Halversen went on record to say that his firm had developed many properties for Publix, and that “You won't get anything from us other than a Publix.” He assured the crowd that the goal is a genuine mixed-use development, that they know how to do this, and that they have done “monstrous rezoning.” For some reason, this assertion did not inflame the ire of the crowd even more, quite possibly that they were already so pig-biting mad that they failed to notice that this was not a particularly good time to raise the issue of the scale of developments that Halverson has engaged in on behalf of Publix. It was almost disappointing that the Lorax did not choose that moment to emerge and speak for the trees.

At some point, the son of one of the property owners, a Mr. Tilley, spoke up on behalf of his aged mother, who was also in attendance. He said that it was their intention to sell, and that this was a buyer he thought would bring something valuable to the community, a great grocery store that would serve local residents. He then brought up the possibility that hew might seek another buyer, quite possibly one who might turn the property into “FHA housing.” No one mentioned this possibility for the rest of the meeting, probably because everyone knows that there's zero chance of FHA housing being built in a community that regards a Publix as the acme of urban blight. Also, at a meeting where every person who spoke up mentioned exactly how long they have lived in this part of town, Mr. Tilley seemed remiss in failing to mention that his family has lived here a good deal longer than just about anyone.

At one point, it was affirmed by an opponent that the current zoning regulations would not permit commercial development. Mr. Byker affirmed that it would, provided that the zoning change to mixed-use were to be approved. This point seemed to be somewhat lost on many, but it appears to be borne out, and it does seem to lack face validity that large firms such as Publix and Halversen would hire a land-use attorney, make bids on property, develop proposals and all the rest without checking to see whether the proposal is permitted. Whether the zoning change is approved is another question, but the change itself is something that can happen under the current Comprehensive Plan. The whole rationale for permitting mixed-use development is that it is desirable from an ecological and development perspective-presumably residents are seeking walkable communities, and reducing driving times will lower the carbon footprint of folks who choose to live there.

For Easley parents, there is also the question of whether the school can accommodate the students who move into the development. Presumably, not all of the families will have elementary-age schoolchildren. It may be that the biggest impact is on families who are trying to gain admission via the lottery, as fewer slots will be available. Then there is the issue of security, whether kids will wander off campus to get snacks at Publix. To this end, a fence might be desirable, something that the developer has indicated they might be willing to do.

So, is this going to be “shoved down our throats?” That's up to you. The question of rezoning will come before the City Council. It seems strange that the city is to be the ultimate decision maker on this question, given that many of the folks who are in the area are county residents only, but that's a consequence of the site location: this proposal really would be prohibited if it were a mile or so north, which is why there are no commercial plats available further north. According to proponents, the matter should come to a vote sometime around six months from now at the earliest, and it will take another ten months to build the development.

So there are the questions of the traffic, the environment, education, and general get-off-my-lawn NIMBYism. From the point of view of consumer demand, Publix is probably right: Durham has the highest average wages in the state, and there are plenty of folks in the area who would shop at a nice grocery. There is a question of whether the process itself will leave folks so embittered that they will not shop at Publix on general principle. I have a hard time allowing that this will be the case. Folks headed north on Guess Road will make a right-hand turn into Publix to pick up a weeknight dinner, because Publix sells sandwiches, and people love sandwiches. Then there is the question of how many miles of travel siting a grocery store at that intersection will save. This is not, contrary to what folks might imagine, some pristine wilderness: according to the census, the population density is about 1,700 people per square mile hereabouts. All those folks make trips to the grocery store, and this one is about two miles closer than the Harris Teeter and Food Lion down the road. Since the plat is adjacent to a school, it's appropriate to turn this into a math problem. Let's assume that the claim that there are 35,000 people in the service area is an exaggeration, just cut it to 17,000. If each of these folks lives in an average-sized household (2.48 persons in NC), and each household makes two trips to the grocery store a week, how much less carbon will be put into the ecosystem? Annually, 2,851,613 miles per year would be saved by shaving four miles off a round trip, which, assuming an average MPG of 21, works out to 1,568 tons of carbon savings per year. When we factor in the environmental impact, that ought to be taken into consideration.

Patrick Byker
Morningstar Law
pbyker@morningstarlawgroup.com
919-590-0384

Thomas Vincent
President of Halvorsen Development
tvincent@halvorsenholdings.com
561-367-9200

Dwight Chappell
Publix Real Estate Site Selection
dwight.chappell@publix.com
863-680-5371

I. Jarvis Martin
919-682-5506
Jarvis@Stewart-martin.com

Division Five, NCDOT
https://apps.ncdot.gov/contactus/PostComment.aspx?Unit=Division_5

City of Durham Mixed-Used Regulations Summary
http://durhamnc.gov/ich/cb/ccpd/Documents/Mixed%20Use%20Update/4.Current%20Regulations.pdf

Carbonify
http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Michael Bacon

Well, the growth has to go somewhere, so North Durham folks, you're screwed.

I mean, I suppose we could build a light rail line that would encourage dense development in the city center where the infrastructure already is and where neighborhoods actually want it. But that would involve blocking someone's view of I-40 with a rail yard, so we can't have that.

Just sayin'.

Scott Koon

There is also the question of pickup and dropoff at Easley, a fair point, but if we are also concerned about the environment, maybe fewer folks should be waiting in minivans with the engine running in car line and more kids riding the bus.

Durhamite

When they start putting seat belts on buses, I'll be happy to do that, Scott, but then again I drive a hybrid car.

Bull City Rising

This comment isn't directed at any one commenter or participant in the thread, but as a general comment (especially since some of you may be new readers of BCR... welcome!)

Once posted, this will be the 17,179th comment at BCR since the site was founded in 2006. As we all know, most TV stations' anonymous commenting sections are cesspools of idiocy and sometimes anger/bigotry. Our friends at local newspapers have tried to make comments identifiable, which has cut down on the nastiness but also the dialogue.

I'm proud that this site's readers have always maintained a spirited, healthy and vigorous dialogue without becoming personally hostile or turning to invective. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

I can see the pro and con side on this project, and why immediate neighbors might be concerned while more distant neighbors thrilled. I learn a lot from the comments -- they usually carry more weight in most people's mind, including my own, than my original posts -- and hope all will keep the comments collegial.

Thanks for reading!

josie mcneil

I live in a neighborhood that is directly on Latta ~ traffic is an issue, but I like Latta as a 2 lane, winding, road. I do not want this development to be the beginning of turning Latta into a wider road so people can speed to their next shopping destination. This is in response to an earlier comment:

"Both proponents and opponents of development seemed unified on one point, which was that Latta Road is a nightmare, a winding, treacherous stretch that is severely overburdened by its status as the only east-west road between Milton and Horton."

I wonder how often the traffic lights on either end of Latta are adjusted DOT.

josie mcneil


Scott Koon

There were a number of folks who live off Latta, mainly concerned with a traffic situation they described as bad, especially during peak hours, noting it's very difficult for them to exit their neighborhoods. Lots of folks over the years have mentioned the possibility of widening Latta, but I'm not sure how that would work, as the topography seems to present a challenge.

I know a number of folks who live in your neck of the woods, and this is the first time I've heard anyone say they are happy with it as is, so good for you, because I very much doubt anything will ever be done to improve the road or direct traffic elsewhere.

Tom Buhrman

Publix ranks amongst the worst grocery stores for seafood sustainability.
http://seafood.greenpeaceusa.org/stores/publix/

In Florida Publix has refused to join the Fair Food Program.
http://www.allianceforfairfood.org/

Their actions show disrespect for the environment and for farm workers, and I don't think Durham should support that kind of company.
https://sites.google.com/site/nopublixonlatta/

Scott Koon

Here's a project for those interested: go to Wikipedia and click on any firm you like. Almost every one has a controvery or scandal. The same is true of the national government, state governments, and local governments. I have struggled with this, but if I boycotted every firm that used union-busting scabs, offshored American jobs, was run by a CEO who made millions off sweatshop labor or had some environmental issue, I'd have to make every product I use myself. Right now, most of us are Duke Energy customers, and they have committed terrible crimes against the environment. Do you really make sure all the seafood you eat is sustainably sourced? How on earth do you know it's not the product of slave labor? Horrible aquaculture practices?

It's a grocery store. All the controversies you are talking about touch every store in the grocery industry. Publix is an employee-owned company that has a good reputation in the areas where it operates.

For what it's worth, it also seems some employees have claimed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Probably more stuff that I didn't find. But folks are acting like it's a handgun manufacturer, a puppy mill and a nuclear power plant all wrapped into one. How about we let them build it and then picket it from day one to get them to treat farm workers fairly and sell only sustainably sourced seafood?

Scott Koon

Also, Greenpeace scores for all the other local options, except whole foods, are pretty bad.

So be sure to boycott those, and let whole foods know that you appreciate their commitment to sustainable fisheries!

Tim

Publix is the largest employee owned company in the U.S. (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2012/05/31/why-we-need-more-employee-owned-businesses); has been on the Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since 1998; is the largest minority employee owned company in the U.S.; was named the Outstanding Employer for people with disabilities in 2014; ranked highest in customer satisfaction by JD Power & Associates 5 years running (2010-2014); has received awards too numerous to mention from the United Way/March of Dimes/feeding America etc for their charitable giving and community involvement; received the GreenChill award from the EPA for achieving 26 certifications. I could go on.

So, if you're opposed to this development, that's your prerogative. But don't embarrass yourself by linking your opposition to Publix being some terrible and evil company. That's almost as laughable as comparing a Publix to a Food Lion.

Howard Lander

One thing I don't quite understand: when I visited my Mom in South Florida we used to go occasionally to her local Publix. It was nothing special as far as grocery stores go. Have they started to build nicer stores now (That was at least 10 years ago).? Why are some people excited by this? Is it really going to be much different the Harris Teeter?

Howard

Tim

Publix has had to compete with WalMart neighborhood grocery stores in Florida, as well as hold off increasing competition elsewhere. They differentiate themselves against Walmart, Harris Teeter and others in three ways: service, quality and price.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2013/07/24/the-wal-mart-slayer-how-publixs-people-first-culture-is-winning-the-grocer-war/

They have changed dramitcally for the better.

Khalid Hawthorne

From my experience with Publix when I lived in ATL...it was better than Food Lion as far as quality and cleanliness yet more affordable and better deals than Harris Teeter.

I am not against Publix or development in Northern Durham. I am against fake mixed-used developments in general and particularly for this site. This stretch could use a 1/2 acre lot development similar to the one just south of the Eno on Guess Road.

We have already stated where commercial development and redevelopment should happen. Also significant amount of time was put in to designate the leading areas for commercial development in this area. Infinity-Latta/ Roxboro, and Horton/ Guess and Horton/ Roxboro/Duke (North Duke Mall)

It would be real cool if kids could walk to Easley from this development but I realize that is not how we do things down south.

Roxanne Van Farowe

I agree that:
- we don't need another grocery store in North Durham
- we don't need a bunch of extra traffic on Latta or near Easley Elementary School
- we are going to fight this! It is not a done deal. There are many savvy people who won't let this pass without a fight.

Tim

Having been at the meeting, I respect the opinions of most of those who oppose this development - those who expressed concerns and asked logical and pointed questions to the developers. Unfortunately, those voices were consistently drowned out by a few who chose to loudly voice illogical and sometimes hilariously erroneous data/opinions, showed a lack of respect for others, and were generally disruptive. My two cents to those in opposition is simple - keep those few out of your organization. They do a great disservice to your goals.

As for Roxanne's last point, all I will say is that the flip side is true as well - that there are many savvy people who will fight for this to happen. I'm just hopeful this process remains civil, because regardless of the outcome, we are all still neighbors.

steve

bull city eric i have a great idea. instead of being a bully or gangster or going to prison to be [REMAINDER OF COMMENT DELETED]

[Ed. note: The remainder of this comment was offensive and not in keeping with the civil tone that I expect of the discussion here. This is one of a very few times in nine years that I have edited a comment. If readers have concerns over this, please feel free to contact me offline.]

Will Wilson

Thank you, editor. Let the blog not be sullied.

Scott Koon

Folks who signed up for the email at the meeting got something in the inbox today from Patrick Byker just now. Here it is:

****************************************************
Dear Members of the Community:
We first want to thank all those who attended the neighborhood meeting last week. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to the feedback we received.
Going forward, we expect to have more meetings with you all, each with more information than the last. We are very early in the development process at this point, so it is critical to get your input now. We understand that we will not be able to make everyone happy, but our intent is to address as many community concerns as possible. We will be in touch with you all to set up another meeting in the future. Currently, we are anticipating our next meeting to be sometime between October 19 and October 29.
Also, as a follow up to the meeting, we have tried to organize the questions and concerns into various categories as listed below.
Traffic/Infrastructure:
What improvements will be made to Latta Road?
From Guess Road back towards Gatewood Drive, we anticipate that Latta will be upgraded to a three-lane cross-section so that persons turning south into the mixed use development or north on to Autumn Drive and Green Oak Drive will not impede through traffic. In addition, there will be dual left-turn lanes from Latta on to south-bound Guess Road. In addition, there will be a sidewalk along the south side of Latta Road for the extent of the mixed use project, which amounts to approximately 1,200 feet.
What can be done to alleviate problems at smaller roads that intersect with Latta?
We anticipate that road improvements on Latta Road will alleviate some of the congestion at the intersections of Latta and Autumn, Latta and Green Oak, and Latta and Gatewood.
Will there be more traffic signals along Latta?
We do not think that NCDOT will approve any additional traffic signals east of Guess Road since we expect that the traffic volume will not warrant a new signal to the east of Guess Road. We will continue to investigate this issue with our on-going traffic study, and have a further update at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
What can be done about cut-through traffic?
Our team thinks that by increasing the capacity on Latta Road, people would be incentivized to stay on Latta Road and disincentivized to cut through smaller neighborhood roads.
What can be done to alleviate problems at smaller roads that intersect with Latta?
Similar to the cut-through traffic problem, we anticipate that road improvements on Latta Road may alleviate some of the issues at Latta’s intersections with smaller roads.
Are you open to providing for traffic calming devices?
Our team will investigate the feasibility of installing traffic calming devices at appropriate locations north of Latta Road.
Does the traffic study take into account school drop-off and dismissal times?
The required traffic study looks primarily at the AM and PM “peak hours” which are considered to be 7 AM to 9 AM and 4 PM to 6 PM. However, we will investigate if there are other improvements that can assist traffic flow at Easley Elementary during drop-off and dismissal times.
Will delivery trucks be making use of Latta Road and if so, are the bridge and/or pavement capable of handling that load?
Our team is evaluating these issues and will have an update at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
Property Value:
How will property value for houses directly abutting the development be affected?
We cannot say for certain; however, our data indicates that the list price-to-sale price ratios for homes near mixed use shopping centers in North Carolina are in the 97%-99% range, which is very good. Moreover, the days-on-market range is 75-120 in these studied areas, which suggests that the homes in fairly close proximity to retail services are desirable. We will continue to evaluate this issue and we will try to present additional information at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
How does this development affect property tax assessments in the vicinity of the mixed use development?
The proposed mixed use development will not affect your property tax assessment that Durham County is working on currently in relation to the county-wide revaluation.
Have the effects on property values for neighborhoods specifically near a Publix shopping center been studied?
No. Publix has not been in North Carolina long enough for this type of study to be conducted in the state. We will try to get more information on this using sales data for communities near Publix shopping centers in other states.
Environmental:
What is being done to protect the Eno River and other resources?
Durham’s environmental regulations are some of the most protective in the State of North Carolina. For example, post-development runoff for the 1-year storm from the site can be no greater than pre-development. At this stage, we cannot give you specifics on what stormwater management devices will be installed, but we will continue to analyze this issue and we will try to have more complete information at the next neighborhood meeting in October.
What happens to the wildlife at the development location?
No federally protected species were found within the development area. Wildlife that is there would likely be displaced by development.
How are trash and debris from the businesses going to be managed?
This is a major concern for both Halvorsen Development and Publix as a site with litter is unappealing. Both have high standards for cleanliness and appearance.
How will light pollution be managed?
The developer will follow the Durham Unified Development Ordinance with regard to lighting. We will provide more details in regard to this issue at the next neighborhood meeting in October.
Will dumpster pickup times be regulated so as not to disturb the residential areas and school operation?
The development team will take commercially reasonable steps to make sure dumpster pick up does not disturb either nearby residents or Easley Elementary.
School Impact:
How many more children are expected to come to the area as a result of the development?
We need to obtain more data in order to address this issue. Generally speaking, townhomes do not generate many new students. As we have indicated, we are anticipating about 70 dwelling units; however, the exact mix of townhomes to single family homes has not been determined. We will provide further information on this issue at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
How will Easley Elementary and other local schools handle the influx of new students?
Again, we do not know at this time how many new students are expected in the area as a result of this development. We will work on evaluating this before our next neighborhood meeting in October.
What steps will be taken during construction to ensure the safety of school children?
Safety is of the utmost importance during the construction phase. Appropriate measures will be taken, whether it is fencing or other security measures.
Will there be fencing between the development and the school property?
The development will be designed with appropriate safety measures to ensure that the students and staff at the school property are protected. We hope to have additional information on this issue to share at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
Is it possible to make sure that deliveries do not occur during Easley Elementary drop off or pick up times?
The development team will work on this issue and present its findings at the next neighborhood meeting in October.
Good Neighbor:
What will hours of operation be at Publix and the rest of the shops in the development?
We do not know the specific hours of operations; however, Publix does not operate 24 hours. We also do not know what other restaurants and shops will be within the proposed mixed use development at this time. We will evaluate this and provide an update at the next neighborhood meeting in October.
Why does this area need another grocer?
Both Halvorsen and Publix have studied the area and believe it to be underserved, particularly with regard to a quality grocer with the stature of Publix. Moreover, this development is not just a grocery store. North Durham lacks a mixed-use community with the level of accessibility to goods and services that this development will provide.
Rather than develop vacant land, why not make use of empty retail space?
Again, this development is not solely about the grocery store. Publix is a key element of the development; however, there are many other components to this development. Moreover, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate elements like an extensive network of sidewalks and quality open spaces in an already existing shopping center. By our assessment, those vacant retail spaces are vacant for a reason, such as poor tenant mix or locational challenges.
What type of landscaping will there be at the development, especially along Guess Road?
The developer is bound by the Durham Unified Development Ordinance. We are working diligently to create a landscaping plan and will share that at our next neighborhood meeting in October.
Are there rental properties planned in the residential portion?
No.
What is being done to prevent crime in the area?
In our experience, high-quality mixed use developments deter crime by bringing more active neighbors to the area in order to increase observation and reporting of any suspicious activity.
How extensive will the sidewalk network be, particularly along Latta?
The development will provide a new, approximately 1,200 foot long sidewalk on Latta along our development’s boundary. There also will be a network of sidewalks within the development representing one of its key features as a mixed use development. Outside of the development, we are limited to what we can commit to as we will not own any land beyond the development.
Does the proposed mixed use development comply with Durham’s Comprehensive Plan?
The proposed mixed use development complies with the Durham Comprehensive Plan.  According to Policy 2.3.1g of the Durham Comprehensive Plan, a Mixed Use development is compatible with any Future Land Use designation in every tier except the Rural Tier.  This project is located in the Suburban Tier.  Therefore, only a rezoning is required and no amendment to the Durham Comprehensive Plan is necessary. 


4812-9153-0279, v. 1

Tom Buhrman

Scott,
Thanks for posting this information from the developer, but Durhamites should know that so far the development team has not formally declared Publix as a "committed element" of their plan. This means there is no guarantee that a Publix store will be built. If the developer is able to rezone the land, they could then build any store that fits the limits of a mixed use area ----- i.e., they could build any store they want.

Publix is not guaranteed.

Scott Koon

Thanks Tom. It's early days yet. At the public meeting, Tom Vincent was absolutely adamant that the only thing that would be coming to that development would be a Publix. They were so sure about that, Byker, Chapell and Vincent, that there were no questions on that score, and so I think that is part of the reason why it's not in the prepared response. Folks were very concerned about how many trees would be cut down, whether it would be an eyesore, traffic, how it would effect Easley, that the "bait and switch" issue got lost in the weeds. I'll be sure to bring it up next time.

Scott Koon

Affect, not effect. Dear god, what have I done....

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