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.)
Halverson 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.
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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.
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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.