Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Walgreens and the 'urban' zoning that isn't

I'm sitting at the zoning committee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission listening to the committee – an advisory body only – discuss whether to recommend a rezoning needed for a controversial, proposed stand-alone Walgreens pharmacy on the edge of the historic Dilworth neighborhood and abutting its historic district. (See "Dilworth wary of proposed Walgreens.")

There's a lot of discussion, led generally by planning commissioner Lucia Griffith, an architect, about the proposed drive-through window the Walgreens would build. An aside: The property is in a pedestrian overlay district, a zoning category intended to make a more pedestrian-friendly area. Drive-throughs, with driveways and vehicles going in and out, are generally accepted as not pedestrian-friendly. Yet they are allowed in this pedestrian district. Whatever. (Want to read the rezoning petition? Click here.)

But here's the larger issue that I don't hear anyone discussing. The property is now zoned for O-2, for office development, and is in a PED (the overlay) zoning.* That zoning would allow an office building, and if it was larger than 30,000 square feet it could include a small bit of retail, but it would take approximately 40,000* 80,000 square feet of office space to allow as much retail space as the Walgreens wants – 16,000 square feet. So in order to have a stand-alone, one-story Walgreens with a drive-through lane, the developers are asking for – wait for it – a more urban zoning category.

Yes, you read that right. The extremely suburban form of a stand-alone, one-story, drive-through pharmacy needs a zoning category called Mixed-Use-Development District, or MUDD. That whole zoning category was created to allow more urban-style development in the city.
The planners at some point in the negotiations asked the developer to create a more "urban" design, and now they say the developer has complied, because the formerly blank walls will have more articulations and "architectural features."

I am still waiting for a planning staffer or a planning commissioner to push for a truly urban design, which would have a multi-use building, that meets the sidewalk, with ground-floor retail space with windows and door on the sidewalk, offices and/or residences above.

Whether the Walgreens is or isn't a good idea for that corner is a whole separate question. Seems to me a Walgreens in a true city building is a whole different question from a cookie-cutter suburban Walgreens in a historic nighborhood and in what is supposedly a pedestrian-friendly district.

The bigger question is why the zoning for an urban-style development allows an extremely suburban style of building.

Seems the Mixed-Use zoning should produce actual mixed use development, not an office-only building plopped next to a drug-story-only building, separated by a driveway and parking lot. That's what we've been getting for decades all over the city, and we call it auto-oriented suburban sprawl.

Two end notes:
1. Walgreens consultant Walter Fields, when I asked him recently why the developers didn't just propose a multi-use building with retail on the ground floor and offices above – what's built in real cities all over the world – he said that to do such a larger building would require a lot more parking, which would require a parking deck, which would be too expensive. I'd love to hear other developers' thoughts about that.

2. Lucia Griffith moves for, and wins, a 30-day delay to let the developers and the neighborhood talk more about how the lighting would affect the neighbors, to rework the drive-through exit, and to ensure that the site plan restricts the retail use on the site to a pharmacy. She asks them also to work on the "urban character," but isn't specific about what that means.

* Corrected to account for what O-2 zoning allows if it's in a pedestrian overlay district. Friday, Oct. 5, 1:15 p.m.)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

...and the neighborhood has said if it is to be developed a more dense, more urban use is desired, as the recently adopted plan calls for. Doesn't the plan, overlay district, and MUDD all disallow the drive -thru for this use, yet there it is? The City's expensive plans are a waste of time and especially money.

Anonymous said...

It seems as if even if no one can agree on anything else (nature of retail permitted, whether it serves "immediate area", etc etc) everyone can surely agree that the drive-through is specifically prohibited by the plan at that location.

End of discussion.

Walgreen's gets rid of the drive-through, or the rezoning is denied.---this is not rocket science. What am I missing??

Anonymous said...

I think the change to 40,000 sf is wrong. Doesn't O2 only allow the retail to comprise 20% of the total square footage? 20% of 80,000 sf = 16,000 sf.

Mary Newsom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Newsom said...

(Trying again, I hope without typos.)

Thanks, Anonymous Oct. 5, 1:34 pm. I wanted to run those numbers past Walter Fields, the project's consultant, whose job is to figure out what the ordinance does/doesn't allow.

He said if the O-2 zoning were to be used (which it isn't) the numbers in the above post are correct. It involves a parking deck and the square footage of the deck, which would be needed if the property were developed under the O-2 (office) zoning now on the site. If you want to get any deeper in the weeds you are welcome to.

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