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Mixed-use development eyed in North Durham; could Publix be a planned tenant?

Attorneys for a Florida-based developer proposing a 30 acre mixed-use project on Guess Rd. in North Durham have scheduled a neighborhood meeting for Tuesday night to brief nearby neighbors and associations (as required by Durham's Unified Development Ordinance.)

Latta-guessHalverson Development Corp. is eyeing an assemblage on the southeast corner of Guess Rd. and Latta Rd., north of the Eno River and intends to ask City leaders for a zoning change to allow mixed-use in order to develop "single family/townhome residential development" along with 68,500 sq. ft. of commercial development.

The materials sent to neighbors ahead of the meeting don't go beyond showing a grouping of 11 properties that are eyed for the rezoning, and doesn't show how homes, townhouses or retail would be divvied up on the site.

But like a moth to a flame, there's two things that keep drawing our eyes back to the letter: "Halverson," and "68,500."

Halverson, based in Boca Raton, develops a range of retail, but disproportionately seems to have Publix Super Markets in their pipeline -- including other Publix-anchored mixed use efforts.

And 68,500 is definitely right in the range of Publix-anchored shopping centers.

Publix's motto, seared into the brains of all once-and-present Floridians, is "Where Shopping is a Pleasure."

If our hunch is right, we suspect they may be able to learn that in Durham, land-use isn't a pleasure (for anybody).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First, please indulge a momentary diversion of topic from your humble author. And this will come with a pledge, to hereafter dissociate the merits of this land use case from the still-speculative possibility that the tenant could be Publix. Got it? Good!

I now consider North Carolina my home, and I carry not-a-little disdain for my birth state of Florida, land of hanging-chads, regressive taxes and the like. But, one is allow to eschew the Sunshine State and still have positive feelings for this particular grocery store -- in this case, wherever it may eventually land in the Bull City.

Publix is a Florida institution, and increasingly a Southeastern one, entering the Carolinas with their decision to challenge Harris Teeter/Kroger and the state's other chains. And, presumably, to establish a northern firewall against Wegmans, which has extended itself only as far south as Richmond. (Publix and Wegmans regularly face-off for first and second place in Consumer Reports' annual ranking of grocery stores.)

Sure, there are plenty of other grocery stores we have to choose from. But Publix has a unique culture and product -- caused not in the least by its unusual status as a family-run, employee-owned company, and one with an astounding focus on customer service (including, none of those infernal purchase-tracking discount cards.) It's in league with Costco as one of these companies loved by people who usually don't love companies.

For more background, Forbes ran an interesting story a couple years ago about how Publix has beaten back on Wal-Mart's strategy by paying employees more -- sometimes a lot more -- and focusing on insanely-good service. What an unsurprising concept!

Incidentally, we didn't have a North Durham Publix site on the radar.

The main rumor we've heard, from several sources, is that Bob Chapman's "fix the loop" effort would have also facilitated Chapman or others building an urban store for the Florida chain on today's City parking lot at Roxboro, Church and Parrish.

And we've long-figured that the now-closed Harris Teeter on NC 54 in Homestead Market would be perfect for a reboot.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Whatever the retail anchors that are planned for this site, don't expect a zoning change in North Durham to pass without controversy.

On the one hand, there's the longstanding perception that North Durham is "under-retailed." Fifteen years ago, of course, Northgate was a much more viable mall, and one of Durham's two big-box Wal-Marts was in North Durham, on Roxboro Rd. 

Fast-forward: Northgate is a (partially enclosed) shell of its pre-Southpoint, pre-recession heyday, surviving we've long suspected is thanks to the passionate ownership of a wealthy family, for whom a Coca-Cola Bottler operation should offset retail deficits.

And while there's a Harris Teeter and a Kroger in northern Durham, there's no real general merchandising option anywhere past the I-85 corridor, once you pass Costco and its neighbors. (We don't Rose's in as an option.) 

We suspect many North Durhamites see this as a mixed-blessing -- we hear complaints over the drive needed to get to a store, but also probably a certain relief at not having the commotion and traffic of a Southpoint or No Hope Commons next door.

At the same time, given that a Traffic Impact Analysis is apparently triggered by this project, one can suspect neighbors are going to have concerns over the traffic generated by new homes, townhomes and cars.

And, we'd expect to hear the very reasonable complaint that often accompanies greenfield centers that include shopping: when there are plenty of underutilized and dated strip centers, including Harry-Teet's former Willowdaile home just down the street, the aging Latta/Roxboro Food Lion, and the old Wal-Mart site at Old Oxford and Roxboro, couldn't energy go into revitalizing older-ring shopping areas rather than adding more displacement?

Indeed, the rezoning application by a developer to bring a Publix to the corner of Falls of Neuse and Dunn in North Raleigh ran into a buzzsaw of well-organized neighborhood opposition, which after a pitched battle led the grocer to retreat and the would-be developer to retrench.

We would not at all be surprised to see a similar movement take hold in North Durham. The interesting question to me is, given the (reputational, at least) lack of North Durham retail, unlike North Raleigh, will opponents be met with advocates?  Or, will the public voice be overwhelmingly opposed?

At the same time, this is likely to be the first major rezoning case in Durham since the repeal of the protest petition, an age-old zoning concept repealed by the General Assembly and Gov. McCrory this summer. Raleigh's neighborhood opposition to the Falls/Dunn project made use of the protest petition technique; it will be interesting to see what happens in its absence.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now that I've mentioned "Publix" approximately eight hundred and five times in this article -- closest guess to the exact count wins a shiny nickel! -- I should reiterate, again, that there is nothing to indicate Publix is in fact a retail tenant for the Guess/Latta site.

But, I've got a hunch that this is exactly that.

First, there's Halverson Development, a name we haven't seen much around Durham, to my recollection.

Of their currently active projects in the southeastern US, more than 60% have Publix as an anchor tenant. That includes a similarly-sized mixed-use project in Charlotte, with 300 apartments anchored by a Publix.

(Like North Raleigh, that project itself also ran into controversy, largely from neighbors' opposition to apartments, a topic of seeming never-ending debate particularly in more suburban areas, where housing stock beyond owner-occupied can be feared, as one story said on the Charlotte project, as bringing "traffic, crime and transients" to an area.)

And, mixed use has been the norm with another local Publix development: Bradford, the Cary development consisting of apartments and a Publix anchor.

Neighbors and other Durhamites will get a chance to learn what's what from developer representatives and presumably their land-use attorneys from Morningstar at the cafeteria of Easley Elementary this Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 6:30p.m.


Jessica Chapman

The people of North Durham like the residential nature of the area and we want to leave the zoning as it stands here - for homes. I don't care if you said Neiman Marcus is coming, it is not in keeping with the area. We also have four grocery stores and many strip malls with empty storefronts. Not to mention a year-long elementary school where traffic will be heavily impacted. Why do they want to add more stores? We can do better, Durham!

josie mcneil

For those who want to see more upscale shopping and dining in northern Durham, perhaps a developer could look at the space where Ollie's is, and contemplate something similar to the University Mall in Chapel Hill. Since the old Burger King there closed and became a Starbucks it seems to have done quite well. Starbucks has also taken over another, norther Durham location that is already developed on Roxboro, where the free-standing bar-b-que restaurant was. Commendations to Starbucks for seeking out already paved space that can use a little extra energy ~ and they must be doing well with their investments in northern Durham or they would not be placing a second location here. I'm not big on big chains. I'd rather patronize a local coffee shop than a Starbucks, but I prefer their model of moving into already commercial space, as opposed to changing a long term land use policy and complicating an elementary school's traffic situation, among many other concerns I have with this proposed development at Latta and Guess.

josie mcneil
north durham resident


This corner has been defended by the local residents before, after a long and difficult battle between 2001-2003. The residents would like it to remain residential, so I am sure it will be defended by the neighborhoods again. Commercial development here is a square peg for a round hole - it simply does not fit the area. Why must we decide that the zoning designation and personnel who developed the zoning plans should be overruled? A company from Florida has decided that they must clear trees and develop rather than use existing empty storefonts...but why? There simply is not a compelling reason. Lets use what we have before clear cutting more.


To the points about vacant retail areas, I don't know the specifics here, but often grocery store chains hold on to the real estate, or at least to their leases, after they move to alternative locations. They can sublease, but are usually unwilling to help the competition.

Regarding the old old WalMart site on Roxboro, Rd. I don't imagine the demographics of the area would support a upper end store like Publix.

Also, you forgot the Kroger across from West Point on the Eno further up Roxboro.

And Kevin or Lisa, thanks for scoops, but holy moly the typos! My eyes!


Speaking of new shopping centers in Northern Durham. WRS realty has submitted a rezoning request to build a new center south of Old Farm across from Argonne Hills on Roxboro Rd. By viewing their website it is easy to figure out that they specialize in Wal Marts and this 42000 sf grocery store will be a Wal Mart brand. WRS also owns the Wal Mart shopping center on Glenn School Rd.

Karrie Comatas

I just told my 10 year old son about the proposal and he said, "right by my school? Um, yeah, no." love that kid.

Will Wilson

Thanks for the details. The same law group that pushed 751 South and its ultimate approval by the NC Legislature is behind this one. And just after the legislature killed protest petitions. This type of heavy-handed development is a prime City Council election issue.

Janet Reed

This plan is good news only to the developers, and possibly those few who want a Publix, or whatever it could turn out to be. The reasons against it are many, and the advantages are meager. It is troubling that the developers are the same ones that were behind the 751 project. Let's not let them push this down our throats.

Kathi Lucas

Well, as a long time resident of a very nice northern Durham subdivision, (pretty close to the property I believe is being discussed), and a subdivision which was built long before Lattamore and other 'newer' areas, I'd be in favor of withholding judgement on 'the proposal'. Let's all hold off making 'set in concrete' decisions until we actually know there is a proposal, and what it entails.
If some of us long time residents of northern Durham had been so anti 'expansion', there would be no Lattamore, Autumn Ridge, etc., etc. Yet all were built, many people live happily in them, and although yes, we 'oldtime residents' lost many trees, and saw more pavement laid, we also gained many neighbors and perhaps even new friends. So hang on everyone, let's see what's really being proposed before we panic!


With all due respect, I have indeed met with the developer's attorney and viewed the plans. The plan is not for an Autumn Ridge or Lattamoor, but 15 acres of commercial property at the corner of Guess and Latta, with drive-throughs included. We have plenty of empty storefronts that would be useful just 8/10 mile down the street for this purpose.


We moved to the area in 2012. We like in the way it is till now. Now your proposal will bring more traffic, shopping stores, residential apartments, houses and with all that we will get more accidents and crimenals. My question is it really we needs all that? Or its it's only some ting to make money out of the development for people living good only where?
Leave NW durham the way it is PLEASE.


Anna Memrick

We moved to Northwest Durham in 1983 for the feel of being away from the city and we like it just the way it is.....if you don't drive up and down this road to work every day, you have no idea how it can be from 7 to 8:30am and from 4p to 6:30p, I do...leave it just the way it is...go to Kohl's, Southpointe, or Raleigh if you want to shop....let the county be just the way it is and if ya wanna spend $$ go ahead and drive.....

Tom Toodles

Please do not put a strip mall that far north on guess. If there was really a demand for stores, the empty storefronts at horton and guess would not be empty. Where are all the peeps that would shop at publix in the middle of nowhere. Latta Road would need to be widened. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO


I live right near this property and am open to options for a nice store like Publix.

Erik Landfried

Wonder what Durham would look like if the County had set the Eno River as an urban growth boundary...

John Norris

I've lived for 20 years in the North Willowhaven neighborhood, quite near the proposed development. I'm amused but not amazed by hand-flapping from the recently arrived about the prospect of nearby commerce.

When moving to Grandview and Lattamoor and the other developments that have sprung up in the vicinity, did they not consider the prospect that an influx of new customers would create new pressure for commercial sites? Or, having moved as near as they could afford to paradise, did they think they would slam the door behind them?

With a development like the one proposed, a lot depends on what you're really getting. If the developers will commit to a Publix, I'm right there with 'em. If they're peddling mystery meat, no thanks.

Karrie Comatas

My son voiced his opinion but I want to second his and the majority on this blog so far. We don't need or want new mixed use in this area. I've lived in North Durham for 15 years and that's long enough in my opinion to claim this area as my home. Promising us the moon is easy, but I am not willing to risk this guy giving us a pile of dung.


With all due respect, North Willowhaven is 2.5 miles from the proposed location. Many commenting live within 0.5 mile, adjacent to, or across the street from the proposed location and have been in their homes over 15 years. I'm not sure if 15 years counts as "recently arrived." The facts are critical when we discuss this proposal.


There is a fairly low-density, single-family residential environment north of the Eno River on Guess Rd and there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to change that given the close proximity of existing retail centers (Harris Teeter and Kroger).

The directly adjacent Easley ES to this site is also troubling.

As many others have mentioned, the developer would be better served redeveloping the Food Lion site at Roxboro/Latta or the Ollies site at Guess/Horton rather than developing on a greenfield site adjacent to an elementary school.


The Triangle Business Journal ran a story back in May chronicling the wealthiest zip codes in the Triangle. Bahama 27503 with 7500 residents and average family income of $106,000 is number 4. While 27712 is number five with an average of $100,000 in income with 20,000 residents.
The income here is more than most of Cary , Chapel and Raleigh. With that being the case it is easy to see why Publix would want to cater to this upscale market.

Howard Lander

Where is the community meeting? How close do you have to live to be invited?

Personally, I'm a little conflicted. I'd rather see the site stay undeveloped, but I wonder if that is realistic considering the flood of people still pouring into Durham. Look forward 5 - 7 years and imagine the pressure that will be built up by then. One other thing: do I remember correctly that the long range plan for the light rail includes (or did at one time) a station right near Guess and Latta?


Marlys Ray

That area of Guess Road can't handle the extra traffic load which would be caused by all phases of the development. There is a site at the northeast corner of Roxboro and Infinity which is probably already appropriately zoned. It was slated for development over a decade ago, and I don't remember why that did not go forward. However it does include the dirty PERC site left at the former dry cleaning location, so that could have been and may still be an issue and expense developers don't want to deal with in general. In this case, that's the choice I'd offer them though. I'll be happy to sign anything in opposition to the Guess rezoning.


Although open to hearing the reasons pro and con a development on Guess and Latta, my first concern is the heavy traffic on Latta and Roxboro Rd already, especially at rush hour. My second concern is the need to develop existing shopping areas within a relatively short distance, given the empty commercial buildings on both Roxboro and Guess. On the other hand, a foodstore catering to organic and local farmers would be a welcome addition to the North Durham area, where I live. For sure, there is a lot of interest in this development, so let's get facts, please, not wish lists or conjectures, before making any hasty decisions. North Durham Resident

Eileen Sarro

We've lived in north Durham for the past 12 years and find the prospect of this kind of development dismaying. This area is special because it is not overdeveloped-- to drive 60 seconds further to get to a grocery store is not a hardship. There are too many empty storefronts as it is, and building yet another degrades the quality of this area. It simply DOES NOT belong. We need to stop this in its tracks. It is bad news.


No no no.

Bull City Rising

"One other thing: do I remember correctly that the long range plan for the light rail includes (or did at one time) a station right near Guess and Latta?"

@ Howard -- to my knowledge, that's not been in the plan. The new EIS document that GoTriangle released shows three Durham-to-Chapel Hill light rail corridors from a 1990s study, but none went north of downtown.

I have to say, given the tremendous number of comments on this article, and the number posted on the transit article a couple of weeks ago -- I shudder to imagine trying to merge those two threads! We'd probably break the commenting system.


@ bull city - perhaps they are thinking about Michael Bacon's idea to use the spur to re-route freight trains out of downtown when THEY were talking about closing all of the at-grade rail crossings to facilitate faster freight routes?


Anyone that has ever been on Latta rd. during rush hour knows how bad of an idea this is. Guess rd. in that area can be very busy when school is starting and letting out. A grocery store or town homes would be adding to the already bad traffic. No thank you.


I wouldn't mind a Publix store on Guess Rd. However, as others have stated it should be built where there is already a strip mall with empty buildings. I would like to see Ollie's go and a Publix in its place. We do not need anymore homes or apartments built in the North section of Durham..

C Dunckel

While I understand the need for some to have more "local" grocery stores, shops, etc. in North Durham, however, for most people who move there, they chose North Durham because it's as close to the country as you can get without actually being in the country. Stores and restaurants are not that far away. Utilize all of the empty buildings and areas that need/want the development. There are a lot out there. We moved from Michigan a little over a year ago, for one, to be in a more rual neighborhood. If this proposal passes, we will defintely be looking elsewhere. North Carolina is a beautiful state. Why do we have to tear down trees, etc. for the almighty dollar. Something I will never understand.


On other thing... I just looked at the Durham Future Land Use Map, which represents the long-term vision for land use in the City, and it shows both sides of the Guess/Latta intersection as remaining "low-density residential."

The developers have no grounds for a rezoning given the current lay of the land and the future land use map, neither of which support higher density mixed-use retail.

Game over for this proposed project.


I always find it sad that people, in general, are so against change. Durham has gone through a very positive re-birth over the past 10 years. Without change, we would still be living in a city that was known for more negatives than positives. This proposal is a natural extension of those changes. People want to live in Durham. Providing the ability for someone to live close to the Eno while having the convenience of mixed use would be a big draw. Remember, the more recent generations, are looking at decreasing commute times, driving less in general, they want to live, play and work in the same places. Recognizing that changes in behavior like that are imminent, we have to think outside of conventional thought to keep this area vital over the long term. Increased demand means increased land and house values which can benefit all existing residents. Obviously, no change comes without consequence, so the important thing is to understand the plan and negotiate those elements that have an obvious profound negative impact.

Remember, it is a good thing that people WANT to live here. As a community, we should look to encourage changes that will keep that alive.

Smythe Richbourg

I'm a new resident in the Memory Lane/Imperial/Redmond road area off Latta Road. We've been here almost two years, after 20 years in Cary, so we've seen the benefit and the horrors of development!

While I'm not against having a site be used for more than woods (which my Lovely Bride would kick me for saying), I would only agree with certain caveats:

1) Hardwood Trees on the property must be left alone, to provide shaded parking for final parking areas. If they push back, at least 80% of hardwoods must be allowed to remain.

2) At least 10% of the land must be left completely natural as a corridor for wildlife migration, nesting, and protection. No paved or other trails, fencing, or barriers can enclose or breach this area.

3) Priority access must be given to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. I'd rather see it be labeled as "car-hostile" than "pedestrian-friendly."

4) No automobile drive-thrus of any type on any building. Walk-thrus and bike-thrus should be encouraged.

5) Partnership with Eno River Association and Bike Durham for maximum impact on the goals of these groups to be integrated within the design of the site.

If they don't want to agree to these terms (and maybe require a group of residents for oversight), they can keep their money in the Sunshine State.

Khalid Hawthorne

I grew up in River Forest which is on the Infinity Road side of things but used to travel Guess/ Latta/ Hillandale frequently. #1 - The Horton/ Guess intersection represents a poorly designed collection of "faux" mixed-use development. Between the newer Harris Teeter and the townhome/ drug store "mixed-use" across the street.

As mentioned earlier, the Infinity/Latta/ Roxboro intersection represents the best greenfield opportunity in all of the N. Durham. If I had the money, I would purchase that sight and the Food Lion one and develop a larger Village Center on the other side of the road. Food Lion is on the wrong side of the commute trip (north-bound afternoon traffic) and it is difficult to access (I used to see a ton of accidents at my first job, Putt-Putt Golf RIP). I would turn the old Food Lion shopping center in to a Community Center and park that is connected to the Eno Park. Of course that would never past the Excel spreadsheet test...

As far as maintaining N. Durham as is...that is a dangerous proposition. One reason for the declining retail beyond design issues is the aging population. Yes...N. Durham is getting older and my parents and the rest of the Boomers are spending less. At the same time, the largest emerging population of those 18-30 who represent the next generation of homebuyers prefer being closer to amenities. *** Northern Durham is 20 minutes plus from EVERYWHERE!! ***

Several spots (this one and the one mentioned just south of Old Farm) would be horrible sites for commercial or mixed-use development. Remember the whole intent of mixed-use is supposed to walkable development...WALKABLE. At the minimum being able to walk within the development...not a series of connected parking lots.

Long story...short...there should be development and redevelopment in North Durham but this does not sound like a good plan.


Having a Publix in Noeth Durham would be a dream come true.


People in the Latta Road area are not against change and growth. They are FOR growth in keeping with the 1/2 acre zoning that is written in the Urban Development plan for that property. They are against growth that puts a shopping center and stores where they were not zoned and where they are not wanted. People who purchased homes in this area were well aware of the shopping choices before they bought their property. If they wanted closer stores, they would have moved to a house closer to them. This "growth" is only being proposed because of one developer's greed. They saw an empty area and decided changing the zoning designation would be the most profitable for them. They do not care about the current residents, nor about future residents. They care about MONEY.

Scott Koon

Now we know, of course, that it is certainly a Publix. There is some irony to the folks who oppose it so doing. If they live on a lot less than 1/2 acre, their own development had to be rezoned. And I bet each and every person does actually shop at a grocery store, and if you live north of the Eno, this will shorten the round trip to the store by four miles, over time producing a significant reduction in your family's carbon footprint.

There are some absurdities. One of the property owners did have me nodding along because I felt sympathy for his family, until he threatened to sell to "FJA housing." Did you just use the idea of providing housing to low-income families as a threat?

Then there are the absurd sidewalks to nowhere, a regular feature of all new development. The same people who require developers to put in sidewalks won't extend them so they are actually useful. If we tear down all existing structures, eventually we will have sidewalks all over North Durham.

And folks ask where the animals will go. Some of them, such as earth snakes, will surely perish, just as they do when you mow your lawn with your single-stroke lawnmower, but the hawks and deer and raccoons and whatnot will be just fine, thank you, they do well in a suburban environment.

But can we please stop acting as though our suburban homes on half-acre lots with longer commute times and trip times in general are somehow more environmentally friendly than a mixed-use development? Because they are not. Every one of us has chosen to drive farther, and most of us own lawnmowers, leafblowers and weedeaters, and many of us use fertilizers and pesticides. We can talk about the environment, but few are walking the walk.

Scott Koon

Also, I would like to second Smythe's concerns. The point of a development plan isn't to freeze the community so that it remains exactly the same for all time, and now is the time to make stipulations so that development occurs in a sensible way.

At least 15% of the area currently will be wetlands. There is a pond, and I think they are looking to keep that.

But my understanding is that the plan includes a drive-through pharmacy. I think that is a concern. We have something at Easley called "car line, " wherein folks sit in a line with the engine running. It's horrid, and increases carbon emissions more than a drive-through pharmacy would. The time to address these conditions is now, and I think that if we can develop a consensus against any drive-through development, that would be great.

After all, one of the major selling points of mixed-use is less driving, more walking, and a drive-through (really, they ought to call them a "park-through") is contrary to this.

Karrie Comatas

Just remember Scott, he can say a Publix will be coming, but that in no way guarantees a Publix. It could just as easily be a Walmart. If we allowed a zoning change, the only thing the law would uphold is the change from residential to mixed use. In no way would a law force or keep a specific store. Patrick is quick to promise Publix because it sounds so much better to his case. I want to set this blog to auto-replace every “Publix” with Dollar Store and see how much, if any, support remains.


As a property owner very near this location, I would love to see a restaurant in the location. I am not opposed to a grocery store, bank, etc. I think we need to wait & see what they are actually proposing before we say we don't want it. Personally I think it would be nice to have some of these places within walking distance (which means leaving your car at home & reducing traffic & emissions). I think some people are forgetting how they got their little 1/2 lots ... yes a community store was demolished, family homes along with huge oak trees for Lattamoor to evolve. I guess we didn't care about the wildlife, traffic, etc. Brogden Heights was farmland that had been in the family for years. You have to be open for change. Don't think north Durham is going to stay the way it is forever. Once it was incorporated into the city ... change is bound to happen. I don't want to see a Massage Parlor, Night Club, etc. built in the neighborhood ... but let's at least wait and see what's on the table. Some people would not welcome a stairway to heaven! I don't think it's for certain that it's a Publix. Publix is looking at several locations. On a previous comment someone mentioned Public Housing. If we keep opposing EVERYTHING that's presented for commercial zoning ... you might just force property owners in the area to resort to building Public Housing. You don't need a zone change and the government will loan you the money. Is that what you want across from you? I don't

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