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North Raleigh residents want grocery proposal shelved 

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For nearly a year, North Raleigh residents have been anxious about whether the Planning Commission and City Council will rezone a plot of land to accommodate a 50,000-square-foot Publix grocery store at Falls of Neuse and Dunn roads.

But last week, the Raleigh Planning Commission voted unanimously to allow the Charlotte-based developer its third extension to amend the plan, angering neighbors weary of waiting for a final decision.

The acreage is currently zoned for small stores, restaurants and offices up to 3,000 square feet. In addition to the Publix, the developer, Morgan Property Group, is considering including townhouses to its proposal.

The case went to the Planning Commission in October, after Morgan Property Group held its mandatory meetings with neighbors. Following outcry from residents, the Planning Commission allowed Morgan and its Raleigh attorney, Mack Paul, an extension until Jan. 5, further delaying the project decision.

Paul told the planning commission he was awaiting the results of a traffic study.

Introduced more than a year ago, the proposal has been unpopular from the outset. Neighbors have cited concerns over traffic, environmental impact and the project's inconsistency with Raleigh's 2030 Comprehensive Plan. In June, neighbors from the North Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council voted against the rezoning 522–23. A petition opposing the rezoning of the site has more than 3,700 signatures.

"This rezoning, if approved, will harm our neighborhoods, threaten our watershed and signal a very negative development for Raleigh," George Farthing, a resident of the adjacent Woodspring neighborhood, told the INDY. "Today it's our neighborhood that is threatened. If the city approves this rezoning, whose neighborhood is next?"

"We are all anxious for this case to be resolved," said Steven Schuster, the planning commission's chairman. "Since the applicant has asked to do more study, it seems appropriate to grant that."

Schuster said he would not support a fourth extension.

Meanwhile, Morgan Property Group has changed the plan in ways opponents say will make the situation worse. On Nov. 17, a group of residents met with representatives from Morgan, and Publix as well as with Mayor Nancy McFarlane at City Hall. The Morgan representatives rolled out plans to add 17 townhouses to the property across a parking lot from the proposed Publix store.

"They made the plan bigger and they didn't do anything that we could see to mitigate the traffic problem," said David Cox, one of the residents who attended the meeting. "We're still going to have more than 6,000 trips a day going in and out of the site with the townhouses. We'll continue to have cut-through traffic through the neighborhood."

This North Raleigh neighborhood already has two Harris Teeters and two Food Lions. And Cox says a two-story, 90,000 square foot Lowe's Foods and office complex development is proposed for the nearby Ravens Ridge neighborhood. Together with the potential Publix, the Lowe's Foods would join a Harris Teeter, a Food Lion and a failed Kroger in Wakefield Commons.

While the grocery invasion occurs in this suburban neighborhood, Southeast Raleigh has struggled to get one: Variety Wholesalers, owned by conservative millionaire and political operative Art Pope, recently purchased a vacant Kroger on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Cox says the 2030 Comprehensive Plan calls for the protection of the watershed district, which includes this North Raleigh neighborhood. "The area is designed as a recreational area for the city," he says, noting that Falls Lake, Falls Dam, the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve, the North Carolina Mountain to Sea trail and the Neuse River Greenway Trail are all within one mile of the proposed Publix site. Additionally, the city has been looking into building a Falls Lake whitewater-rafting park.

"Our question to city leaders is, 'Why would you encourage development of a strip mall in an area specifically singled out to be protected, where the city is investing millions into it becoming a recreational area,'" Cox says. "We want to put those questions forward to council and the mayor, and we want answers."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Peeved over Publix."

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