Wilmington City Council approved a rezoning request Tuesday that would bring a development containing 91,000 square feet of office and retail/grocery space to 17th Street.
The 12.32 acres of land, located at 4201 S. 17th St., were rezoned from R-15 Residential to CB(CD) Community Business (Conditional District) in order to construct the mixed-use development. The proposal includes a three-story, 45,000-square-foot office building; a 10,300-square-foot, two-story retail space; and a single-story, 36,200-square-foot grocery store on the land.
According to Cindee Wolf of Design Solutions, who spoke on behalf of the applicant at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, there has been little opposition to the project from residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. That’s in contrast, she said, to the spirited reactions to previous plans for that site – an assisted living residence for senior citizens – as well as plans for other nearby developments.
“The neighbors don’t have a problem with the uses we’re proposing, and that was not a total surprise, but a pleasant surprise, to say the least,” Wolf said of the input she and others working on the project gathered from community meetings. “It was just a thrill to have the people around it embrace it and not have a lot of the opposition that has come out against other projects.”
Last month, Wolf presented plans to city council for an Aldi grocery store on S. College Road, less than a half mile away from the 17th Street mixed-use proposal. Several spoke passionately both for and against the project during its public hearing. On Tuesday night during the public hearing, the crowd was silent on the latest grocery store development.
Still, some issues brought up during the discussion about the Aldi development were revisited by council members on Tuesday, including traffic at the intersection of South College Road and South 17th Street. Councilman Kevin O’Grady questioned whether the new development, which lies east of College Road behind the Pine Valley Shopping Center between Peel Street and John D. Barry Drive, would cause more congestion at that busy intersection. He was told the traffic impact analysis, which included expected traffic from the yet-to-be-built Aldi, showed minimal impact on the intersection from the mixed-use development.
O’Grady, who was the only council member to vote against the Aldi development, also brought up the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides staff and officials as to what land uses and types of developments should be allowed in different parts of the city.
“I was trying to contrast the two properties, and I came down against the other one, [but] this one, frankly, I can’t see a reason to vote against it based on our Comprehensive Plan and our zone. It seems to touch the bases. The others didn’t,” O’Grady said. A big difference, he added, was the mixed-use nature versus the one tenant, single-use grocery store of the Aldi plan.
“But I have to step back and take a look at the whole intersection now, and I’m concerned that the Comprehensive Plan’s not working very well, because I think we’re creating a nightmare at this corner with all the stores,” O’Grady said. “And I know it was designed that this would be a node for neighborhood retail, [but] I don’t think this is going to be neighborhood retail.”
O’Grady said that developing clusters of large retail stores on “commuter routes” seemed to contradict the Comprehensive Plan’s objective of creating neighborhood, or smaller scale stores – think Trader Joe’s as opposed to Harris Teeter – that were easy to walk or bike to.
“I’m just very concerned that the comprehensive plan in reality is not going to achieve the things that folks said they wanted. They wanted more residential character and they wanted neighborhood retail businesses and mixed use, and I don’t know that we’re getting that,” O’Grady said. “We don’t know what this grocery store is going to be, but I doubt it’s gonna be a mom and pop at that size … Anybody that’s building a 36,000-square-foot grocery store is not going to be satisfied with just the neighborhood [consumers].”
Mayor Pro-tem Margaret Haynes disagreed.
“I personally believe that the 17th Street extension is a very large, not just connector street, but almost a semi-highway,” Haynes said while noting and also expressing her surprise at the lack of opposition from neighbors to such a heavily commercial development. “So I believe it does meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan … I believe that it does provide sort of that neighborhood commercial entity.”
It is unclear what retailer will fill the grocery space.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Wolf said when asked by O’Grady if she knew who would go there. “I know that there’s someone that’s very interested in this site.”
In addition to the recently approved Aldi, a Publix grocery store is also set to be built near the intersection of Bragg Drive and South College Road, one block north of the 17th Street intersection. A Food Lion already exists at the Pine Valley Shopping Center, and a Harris Teeter is about two miles north on College Road.
Despite his concern about the inconsistencies of the Comprehensive Plan, O’Grady said he did not see a legal basis to oppose the development. He joined the other council members in unanimously approving the conditional rezoning and proposal plans by a 7 – 0 vote.