A rezoning petition to upgrade and bring drive-thru restaurants to a Grier Heights shopping plaza has raised questions about what kind of city Charlotte wants to be.
It also raised concerns about gentrification and sustainability, given the drive-thru component.
The developer will build a multi-use path and include some office space for free to the community. Others remain worried about added traffic and the potential for pollution.
Piedmont Capital, a local real estate investment firm, is committing over $4 million into Wendover Plaza. The plaza, which is anchored by a Food Lion and just welcomed a Goodwill store, sits off North Wendover Road by Beal Street.
Crews will give a face lift to the building facade, parking lot, landscaping and signage, said William Hodges of Piedmont Capital.
While no leases have been signed, Piedmont has been talking to both Starbucks and Chick-fil-A to come to the plaza.
The Starbucks would occupy a former credit union building, which has a drive-thru window. The Chick-fil-A would be built in the Food Lion parking lot with a drive-thru. Both restaurants would have dine-in options, Hodges told The Charlotte Observer.
Charlotte City Council approved Piedmont’s rezoning petition Monday night in a 7-3 vote. Council members Braxton Winston, Renee Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt voted no.
The approval came despite the zoning committee voting 5-1 to not recommend approval.
Piedmont’s proposal also saw opposition from the nonprofit Sustain Charlotte, which had concerns about drive-thrus running counter to city policies. Those policies are chiefly around creating a less auto-centric city that’s more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Plaza in need of upgrades
The reinvestment could help the Food Lion location, according to the developer and city officials. The branch was described during a previous zoning meeting as under-performing.
The grocer was in favor of the reinvestment as it was looking for stabilization, said Collin Brown, a land use attorney representing Piedmont.
Without the store, the area would be a grocery desert, said Councilman Larken Egleston, who represents the district where the plaza is.
To address community concerns about gentrification and impacts the project may have, Piedmont agreed to offer free space to a community nonprofit called Crossroads Corporation and Grier Heights Community Improvement Organization.
Piedmont also agreed to provide 500 square feet to serve as a business incubator space. The developer worked closely with the Grier Heights Community Improvement Organization to agree to various community benefits.
Egleston said the community sees the project as a positive. Aside from the space for the community groups, the project will bring jobs to the area.
Traffic impact of drive-thrus
Restaurants like Chick-fil-A that have drive-thrus can generate a serious amount of car traffic.
In a recent opinion piece for the Observer, John Holmes wrote about his experience as a former Chick-fil-A manager in east Charlotte. He described car crashes and traffic lines that wrapped around the building and blocked nearby roads.
Holmes was fired for speaking out against a separate approval of a rezoning to bring a Chick-fil-A to a part of the city zoned for transit-oriented development.
According to Piedmont, all queuing for the Wendover Plaza drive-thru will happen in the parking, not from Wendover Road. This will prevent traffic from backing up into the street, Hodges said.
Piedmont will also put in a new traffic signal at Wendover Road and Beal Street. And the firm will build a bike and walking path along Wendover Road, making it safer for pedestrians or bicyclists, Hodges said.
Holmes believes a drive-thru restaurant will likely see traffic impacts even with the queuing system, based on his previous experience. He points to nearby density, including apartments close to the shopping plaza, that could be negatively impacted by a congested drive-thru.
“We can’t build a proper city if we keep approving suburban-like projects within it,” Holmes told the Observer.