Friday, February 03, 2006

A big win for neighbors

Big news – and good news – out Central Avenue.

The developers who wanted to build an Aldi grocery store at a key intersection – Briar Creek Road – are withdrawing their request for rezoning.

Chris Ogunrinde of Neighboring Concepts, one of the developers, told me Friday they decided to cancel the plans for the Aldi after a meeting with neighbors Jan. 26. “We had a lot of resistance from the residents,” he said. “I told Grey (Poole, the other developer) we should just fold and come back again.”

The property is owned by longtime East Charlotte resident and activist Nancy Plummer, whose husband, Ray, died last year. It’s 4.5 acres, zoned for 22-units-per-acre multifamily.

It was an unfortunate proposal for a key site, just beyond the funkily reviving Plaza-Central business district. The neighborhoods nearby, Merry Oaks, Briar Creek/Woodland, and the fringes of Plaza-Midwood, have in the past 10 years attracted a lot of younger, “creative class”-type residents.

But Aldi is a low-cost chain store that caters to, well, people looking for low-cost groceries. In and of itself, that’s fine. But one way retailers keep costs low is to build fast, cheap, unattractive stores. That’s why they’re called “big boxes.” Look at Costco. Look at Wal-Mart, and Target. Aldi is no exception. Unlike Harris Teeter and the locally owned Reid’s – which built stores uptown in mixed-use buildings – Aldi has no “urban” prototypes, at least, none in Charlotte.

So that key spot was going to get a one-story, suburban-style store catering to low-income customers. And what it needs is a well-designed, urban-style project with mixed-use buildings, good sidewalks and one-of-a-kind shops.

Ogunrinde says he was upset that some of the opposition focused on Aldi’s perceived clientele. That’s a fair point. City planners, as well, aren’t supposed to take such things into account in assessing whether to recommend for or against rezonings. And Aldi customers come from all income groups, surely.

But come on. In the real world developers set “price points” for their developments, and retailers do, too. That’s why Nordstrom didn’t plop itself down next to Target on South Boulevard. An Aldi would signal to every potential Central Avenue retailer and home-buyer, “downscale neighborhood here.”

Given that Aldi would build only a one-story building and needed a big parking lot, from what I saw of the site plan even a good urban designer like Ogunrinde couldn’t do much with the site.

The city plan for the area calls for something different – “neighborhood-oriented businesses” along that stretch of Central. It specifically recommends a coordinated development of the Plummer property and the property across Central, owned by the Renfrow family. It envisions two- or three-story buildings, with retail below and office or residential above.

That's one reason a lot of neighbors felt betrayed by the development proposal. You can feel the heat, just reading the transcript of the Jan. 26 meeting.

The good news: Ogunrinde said he and Poole plan to simply buy the property outright from Plummer, and come back with a different proposal. There’s a lot happening in the area, and property values are rising. The proposed Morningside development, less than a mile away, is expected to set a much higher standard for design. I suspect Poole and Ogunrinde can sit on the property for a year or two and still make a pretty penny.

One other thing: At one point in the neighborhood meeting, Poole referred to the proposed development as “New Urbanism.”

It wasn’t. Not close. I hope people who heard him know the difference.


Anonymous said...

Mary - this is definitely a "win" for the neighborhood. The time has come to have more economic and buidling diversity across Charlotte. We need to stop concentrating all the low-end product in west/north and east Charlotte. I believe the City needs to conduct a study of residential price points by geographical area, and then determine if an area has too much low, middle or high end price points for that area. The second step would be to use this information to set targets for that area that would be considered during rezoning approvals. If an area has too much low end or too much high end product than the rezoning would be conditioned on the provision of mixed housing types/prices that need to be increased in that area. If not, then we will continue having 25% of the City rapidly appreciating in value (south), while most of the rest of the City (west/north/east) receives all of the starter end homes and fail to appreciate in value. That is not good for the purchasers of those homes and is not good for the long-term fiscal viability of the City. Something has to change...and needs to change soon. Congratulations to the East side residents for sticking up for themselves and demanding better from developers and the elected officials. I can hear all the free market folks griping about this post, but it is the free market that has created the challenges/foreclosures/lack of appreciation that we must now find a way to remedy.

Disgusted in Union Co said...

Another faux-new-urbanism proposal...somehow, the fact that Grey Poole would even utter the phrase "new urbanism" to describe another cinder block bunker huddled within its asphalt moat is one of the most disturbing aspects of this story.

Anonymous #1 has great points and expressed my feelings better than I could. I'll add just one more: yes, the "free-market" extremists' heads will probably explode reading that, but the "dead end" nature of creating entire one-price-point sub-regions is bad for everybody, including the McMansion folks. Having all huge houses and hoity-toity retailers in one place may seem like a good thing to the occupants of those neighborhoods right now, but any econimic disturbance has the potential to wreak havoc with those places too. Diversity, good design, and livability will hold their values better even when the low end goes lower and the high end experiences the economic consequences of oversupply and the next recession.

Anonymous said...

I conceed I don't know the area well. I'm probably not alone among the readers. My concern here is the lack of discussion on whether a grocery store was needed in this area. Forget the store name and price point, was this a needed amenity or even utility to this area? Sometimes you lose when you win when unintended consequences accompany actions. If "winning" was stopping a grocery store needed by area residents to provide local vs. commute shopping was it a win? Just a question not answered with the information given.

Anonymous said...

Two things-
First- There was a great deal of discussion at the metting as to wether or not another grocery store was needed in the area, what with two within a mile radius of the location, and the concensus was that there was no need.
Many at the meeting asked specifically, "Why another," and we recieved no adequate response.
Second- as to Mr. Ogunrinde stating that "he was upset that some of the opposition focused on Aldi’s perceived clientele," why is that so outrageous? A big part of the impact of a developement is the traffic it draws. We in the community wish to have a developement that draws a clientelle that sustains, even invigorates the neighborhood. Is it too much to hope for that when something is developed, it will add to out area, not live off it parasitically, as a low end store would have?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Aldi sells Wernesgruener Beer (a German import equivalent to Becks) for $4.59 a 6-pack! That should appeal to the creative class consciousness. Aldi opened a store in NE Meck near Eastfield and it competes well with Harris Teeter, Lowe's and Bi-Lo. I agree with those questioning the typical low-density, single-use proposal. But I do find the elitist "Aldi is low-class" rant bothersome. It's typically a small-box retailer that is actually cheaper than Wal-Mart (thus a good thing in my book). If we had form-based codes, the end-use wouldn't matter.

Anonymous said...

But have you seen the Aldi's near our area? Off Albemarle for example, or maybe the one off Monroe road? While it's nice to hear about these other higher end stores, Aldi's won't give specifics or guarantees on the type to be built here. (Trust us?) The architectural models we have in our part of the city do not conform to the small area plan in any regard. Not the scale, not the green space, not the style.
As for the beer, try the Food Lion or the Harris Teeter or the International Grocery all within the 1 mile radius I mentioned. To quote from the first comment, "Congratulations to the East side residents for sticking up for themselves and demanding better from developers and the elected officials."
Your contention that this is a class issue, sidesteps the real issue of tenant accountability to the neighborhood. In the meeting the point was brought that the tenants we were hoping for were tenants vested in the community, not absentee tenants with no interest in the future developement and growth of our area. I personally, would rather have a "low class" tenant who wishes to see the area grow, who wishes to work toward that end and who would like to grow with the neighborhood, than a "high-class" one with no ties to it and no desire to better it.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with anything you've written, in principle. That's why I said we need form-based codes that manage the design and suitability of the building into the seam of the neighborhood. I have no doubt that Aldi would use it's cheap architectural prototype if they could get away with it.

"In the meeting the point was brought that the tenants we were hoping for were tenants vested in the community, not absentee tenants with no interest in the future developement and growth of our area." Have any of the tenants proposed a locally-owned business or started one of their own? I applaud the sentiment, but land use planning cannot "will" the market to create something. Again, that's why form-based codes are so important.

Anonymous said...

I am tired of elitist white middle class people that really have an agenda to gentrify this neighborhood hiding behind "other reasons" for not wanting this development. What you really want is your own Dilworth and to run off every last working class family from the neighborhood. Some of us that live off Central would greatly appreciate having an alternative place to buy groceries rather than HT or expensive Independents holding the community hostage. Having seen Aldi in Germany while in the military I can tell you that 90% of Germans shop at their stores. The reason- they despise inefficiency and waste, which we glutonous Americans could take heed of. If you look at the Aldi store design, which I have seen "dressed up" in Matthews and Highland Creek, it is state of the art for energy efficiency. In addition the "pay for bags" policy encourages recycing plastic bags. Most neighbors around here don't buy coffee at Starbucks or Goat's Cheese at Talley's - we stuggle to make ends meet. Shame on y'all- I guess another generic mutifamily project will just help to water down the locals.

Anonymous said...

True working-class heroes earn the name by supporting the working class, not by starting class or race wars with others.
Support the Food Lion workers -- many of them Garinger High School students or Bosnian immigrants -- rather than attacking the new young residents of the neighborhoods.
Honor the past by supporting the houses, trees and green space on the Plummer and Renfro properties.
Support the idea of European efficiency by endorsing the idea of using existing developed property -- on Eastway Drive -- instead of paving over what little green space is left.
Work not for gentrification, but for the idea that all classes, races and generations deserve the ability to walk or bike safely and to have green space, clean air and clean creeks.
"A working-class hero is something to be."

Anonymous said...

You are in cookoo land. The property will not end up being a park, it will be paved and be called multifamily. We had a chance to control this plan- now they can do what they damn well please. Big pat on the back.

Anonymous said...

"We had a chance to control this development" baloney. Aldi would not budge, so the developers quit. That's all.

sexy said...