Plans for a 19,000 square-foot Aldi grocery store on South College Road were approved last week through a rezoning ordinance by the Wilmington City Council, despite vocal opposition from a group of residents.
Those in favor of the project touted the chain’s low prices and commitment to non-GMO foods, while those against it cited the traffic it would bring to the area as well as the number of other nearby grocery stores.
The property at 3701 S. College Road is currently owned and occupied by Trinity Presbyterian Church, which has a relatively small building compared to the size of the property. The 4.4 acres of land had been zoned R-15 Residential, a medium density zone (15,000 square feet minimum per single-family lot). The owners and developers asked for it to be changed to CB (CD) Community Business (Conditional District) in order to bring the German-based international chain to the area. According to Cindee Wolf of Design Solutions, the developers’ representative, the change would bring new life to the southeast corner of South College Road and Waltmoor Road/17th Street extension, which has rapidly become commercialized.
“Part of why [the church] doesn’t want to be there anymore is it is along a commercial corridor. It is not quiet,” Wolf said, also noting the property currently doesn’t comply with any of the city’s stormwater or landscaping requirements. “This could be an infill opportunity and a much more efficient use of an underused property.”
The rezoning and development had the support of both the city’s planning department and of the planning commission, which recommended its approval last month because it aligned with the city’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan.
“The [Comprehensive] Plan identifies this as an area of opportunity, and the growth strategy recommendation is the development of a mixed use retail center on the site,” said Jim Diepenbrock, an associate planner with the city. “The plan also addresses the growing need for increased accessibility to grocery stores in this part of the city.”
That statement got snickers from members of the crowd against the development, some of whom later spoke to the number of grocery stores in the area, which include a Food Lion, a Harris Teeter and a Publix that is under development.
“I’m referring mainly to the east side of South College Road,” Diepenbrock clarified. “A store in this location can more easily be used by local bike and pedestrian traffic, and therefore people on those modes of transportation don’t have to cross College Road. That actually goes for vehicular traffic as well.”
The property lies along a section of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail that leads to nearby Wade Park. Resident Kristy Carp, who used to live in Germany and is now a resident of that part of Wilmington, says she rides her bike often with her family and would love to have a neighborhood grocery store they can walk or bike to.
“It just makes a lot of sense,” Carp said, noting Aldi’s compact layout compared to other grocery stores, which can be over 50,000 square feet in size. “We love the style of store … I don’t think this is going to create the type of traffic people are worried about.”
Another mom and resident of the area who also takes her kids biking in the area, Amy Lamb, had a different opinion.
“Part of the Cross-City Trail will be removed to accommodate a turn lane and the driveway of Aldi or any store that will have a high volume of traffic,” Lamb said. “This greatly impacts the safety of my children and all of the cyclists and pedestrians using the Cross-City Trail.”
Lamb and two other residents spoke on behalf of the opposition to the project, which Carp said was “loud and sometimes hostile.” In addition to safety and increased traffic in the residential neighborhoods, homeowners directly adjacent to the property were also worried about other issues the development could bring.
“We will have more noise from cars and trucks as early as 4:30 in the morning, more light and air pollution, more bugs and mosquitoes from the retention pond and Dumpsters,” said Dawn Cole, who along with her husband owns property directly behind the church. “This will decrease our home values as well as surrounding neighbors. A lot of us don’t have pensions or 401(k)s. Our equity in our home is our retirement.
“Aldi, the church and the city will all make a lot of money, but at the expense of us and our neighborhood,” Cole continued. “I know people say something worse could go in there, but we say something better could go in there.”
Wolf said that developers of residential communities like to see stores like Aldi near the entrances to their communities.
“It’s an asset for homebuyers to be able to, on their way home into their communities, to stop by a small grocery store and get the things that they need,” said Wolf, who is involved with many residential and commercial developments in the area. “They actually want to have a neighborhood-scale grocery at one of their entrance points into their development.”
Jonathan Washburn, an attorney representing Trinity Presbyterian Church, noticed a general sentiment of “not in my back yard” among residents, but pointed out property values in the area increased after a CVS Pharmacy was built on the northeast corner of College and Waltmoor, across the street from the planned discount grocery store.
“They’re calling Aldi a bottom feeder; they’re providing good products at low prices by providing their own products … It’s not a bottom feeder. It’s where I’m going to buy my milk,” Washburn said, noting prices were below Walmart prices. “They’re making these assertions, and I don’t see any evidence.”
Another future customer who said he was looking forward to an Aldi in his neighborhood was Nicholas Carp, the young son of Kristy Carp who attended the meeting and even spoke at the public hearing.
“I think it would be a good opportunity here,” said Nicholas Carp, noting the open land there would eventually have to be developed. “Where it’s being developed right now would be a good place for a grocery store.”
The younger Carp asked city council to bring his favorite grocery store to his neighborhood.
“I don’t want this staying up late for me to go to waste,” he ended, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
Though the Carps left before the decision was made, council members voted 6 – 1 in favor of the rezoning and the development of Aldi. Councilman Kevin O’Grady was the lone dissenter, citing concerns about traffic.