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City Beautiful 21 » Architecture, Auto Traffic, Carrboro, Economic Development, Piazzas, Plazas, Parks and Squares, Street Design, Walking » Lloyd Farm: What Happens When You Let a Grocery Store Chain Do Urban Design

Lloyd Farm: What Happens When You Let a Grocery Store Chain Do Urban Design

After several years of hearing suggestions for improvements from adjacent neighborhoods, elected officials, advisory boards and citizens from all over Carrboro, the folks at Argus Development have submitted plans for what they have always wanted to build here – a grocery-anchored strip mall.  I first wrote about this project in 2014, nearly 18 months ago, and have talked to many Carrboro residents about it since. Very, very little about the proposal has changed and its chief flaws dating back to 2014 remain mostly unaddressed.

If I was a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, I would vote to deny this rezoning application.

The most recent site plan attached to Tuesday’s packet is below. If you look at the link above to my prior post, you’ll see little has changed in 18 months. I’m going to list several shortcomings ahead of the image below.

  1. The overall design of the site is simply too suburban, which makes it hard to redevelop into something better in the future. Some of the suburban features damaging this site layout in particular are the gently curving road from the top of the site the area down by the two stores surrounded by stormwater detention ponds. This roadway geometry and lack of buildings along the side of the road will encourage speeding through the site by cars.
  2. Tax base efficiency for the town. This design incorporates several of the low-value per acre approaches documented in the 2014 presentation by Urban 3 to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce (click to see slides-they’re EXCELLENT!).  In a town with a rural buffer, we need to do our best to maximize our tax value per acre on parcels inside the buffer to produce a better balance between commercial and residential tax base in Carrboro, and that means building up in a denser format. The site design for this plan incorporates the limited value proposition of the Timberlyne Shopping Center and the “Older Outparcel Format” on slide 18 with parking completely surrounding a building, providing a much lower value per acre (in this case, about $950,000/acre) than more urban building types such as the Hampton Inn in downtown Carrboro. (Over $33 million per acre!). Go to the final slide and look at the comparison of mall or strip development per acre with mixed-use at 3 and six stories. The Lloyd Property should be in the categories on the right hand side of the chart; instead, it is mostly in the strip mall category, with limited tax base per acre developed and a design that locks that in for probably 30 or more years.
  3. The massive parking field in front of the Harris Teeter grocery store. I don’t think I have had a single conversation about this project that doesn’t involve someone lamenting the massive parking lot fronting the grocery store, and how much better it would be to have something more akin to Southern Village instead. This suggestion has been made repeatedly to the applicant, and they have done nothing to engage with this community request in their design. The most likely reason is that their client, Harris Teeter, has probably sent some middle management person to the site who looked around and said “yup, this looks suburban, it must have the suburban standard site layout,” which comes with a checklist that says, more or less- “if we can’t have all the parking right in front of the store in a massive parking field, the store will not make money. Our customers are simply too stupid to figure out how to use our stores otherwise.” Harris Teeter’s own store at North Hills in Raleigh shows this isn’t true, but since the corporate grocery office has labeled this “suburban” rather than “urban” they are shoving the standard design down our throats. Let me say that again another way- one of the most significant undeveloped parcels in Carrboro is being designed primarily around the needs of a checklist in a major grocery store corporate office, not the town’s needs and goals.
  4. The two water detention ponds with the two outparcel sites featuring a triple drive-through (worst kind of drive through!) bank and another retail site are a pretty irreversible suburban set of uses that work to prevent a future urban street grid from being installed while also only supporting low-intensity uses.
  5. No public gathering spaces. There are two locations titled “Plaza Lawn” on this drawing. Neither of them are likely to be used by many people and become the beloved community space that the Weaver Street lawn is. One Plaza Lawn (bottom left) is going to be nearly empty, all the time. With no adjacent uses other than parking, and a walking path to Old Fayetteville- the side of the site featuring the least pedestrian traffic, there’s no reason to be here. The Plaza Lawn in the curve near the top center of the site will have high-speed traffic on one side, and a retail/restaurant space on the left side. Perhaps there may be some spillover here if this is a restaurant, but if it is a retail store, this will just be another grassy berm that goes unused. Looking at these two sites plus the big green swath of land between the road and the detention pond north of the senior housing, there was plenty of space in this site to create a village green surrounded by active uses, but the parking for the grocery store was too important. Are you one of the folks who was really interested in a gathering spot, or are you interested in learning more about the failures of American “plazas,” and why the Lloyd Farm “Plaza Lawns” fail in the same way? Check out this neat piece by Neil Takemoto on the difference between Americanized “plazas’ and Italian “Piazzas.”
  6. Age-restricted housing. My most recent post on Lloyd Farm covered the issues with Senior Housing instead of housing for all ages. Click here to read why going from apartments to age-restricted housing presents a dilemma when it comes to equity issues in housing.
  7. None of the buildings have any relationships with the streets. They have relationships with the parking lots. This means that it will be harder to tear these buildings down and replace them with more dense development in the future, effectively restricting the future economic capacity of one of our limited commercial zones.
  8. Virtually all of the commercial buildings are one story. Orangepolitics ran a great piece recently on how we don’t have space to receive small and growing companies, and we can’t get ANY of these buildings to have a second story with some space for the next business that breaks out of an incubator to move to?
Lloyd Farm Plan April 2016

Lloyd Farm Plan April 2016

In closing, I’m going to share a few comments from the advisory boards that I thought were particularly good:

Add multistory mixed use development with ground floor commercial with residential
and/or office use above, and increased clustering  of  buildings relative to the current site
plan. Consider the model  of  Southern Village. The current site plan has too many
buildings too far apart with too much separated parking. Building up and clustering
would reduce impervious surface and therefore more effectively address stormwater
runoff and flooding issues. – Environmental Advisory Board

And…

The Board recognizes the need for senior housing in Carrboro, but is disappointed with
the lack  of  affordable or workforce housing. We would like to see some  of  the senior
residences made available at workforce rates. A payment-in-lieu should be required as a
condition  of  the rezoning.- Planning Board

And…

The Board strongly suggests that the final plan reverse the positions  of  the grocery store
and the buildings facing it. The intent is to reinforce a residential buffer. It would also
serve to decrease the distance between the grocery store and the senior housing.
The rezoning should include conditions regarding architectural standards, including
uniformity  of  materials and setback  of  taller buildings in proximity to residential areas,
which mirror the Downtown Districts. The conditions suggested by the Applicants should
also be included, however condition  #1  should be amended to reflect the change in
positions  of  the grocery store and the facing retail buildings.

It seems pretty clear that the rezoning is the last chance to get any improvements to the design or reconsideration of strategies, and I hope the Board signals that this proposal should not proceed unless these issues are addressed. Given we’ve been at this for 18 months formally and longer informally, I’m not terribly optimistic that we’re going to get much better by giving them a green light.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that I think that development processes that don’t make it clear what the community wants and expects make it harder for developers to come to reasonable  win-win outcomes for the community. I understand that the proposed investment at this site is a big deal, but I also think a superior project would offer better upside for the town and the developer if they could get past the inflexible approach to the parking on the grocery store and the other conventional mid-to-late twentieth century design approaches they are taking to the site layout and organization. Honestly, I feel like the investors and the Town are leaving profit and taxbase on the table to cater to the checklist at the Harris Teeter corporate office.

Given that we already have a Harris Teeter with a dangerous, pedestrian-hostile parking lot in Carrboro, and that these folks don’t seem to have incorporated much of what the community is asking for, I think that denying this rezoning is reasonable, and that the town should then turn to establishing a process that the TOWN leads to establish what type of development is appropriate for this site. We can (and should) do better.

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6 Responses to "Lloyd Farm: What Happens When You Let a Grocery Store Chain Do Urban Design"

  1. blakeR says:

    Hey Patrick, this is a good rundown.

    I would just point out that the developers did get community feedback through a long (and from what I hear, contentious) mediation process with the James & Carol St. neighbors who stand to be most directly affected. Perhaps the biggest issue is that they were the only community group to really speak up on the project, and if not the only then certainly the loudest.

    Without trying to point fingers, developers claim to have been hamstrung in bringing a more urban density to the project as a result of this mediation process; these neighbors were most vocal about the traffic and noise that higher density would bring.

    I would love to see higher density along the Hwy 54 section of the development, but I’m at the very least cautiously hoping that they take up the Planning Board’s “strong suggestion” to flip the Teeter with the two commercial buildings opposite. This will bring more people to what should be a beautiful lawn in the southwest corner, with (hopefully) many gathering opportunities.

    1. Patrick says:

      Blake, thanks for commenting! I do think Bethany Chaney had it right in a recent meeting when she suggested revisiting what we consider in terms of “notice” for new development in town. Our present practices notify people within 1000 feet of a property undergoing zoning changes, etc. However, this approach tends to raise up neighborhood issues while putting town-level issues (like global issues with affordable housing and connectivity of bike/ped infrastructure) on the back burner. Both sets of issues are real, and need to be discussed together to negotiate better outcomes. For example- if this project were denser, it might have the chance to provide a more robust tax base to address traffic calming along Carol St and James St in a way that would discourage speeding in the neighborhood, which is a problem today even without Lloyd Farm in place.

      But I think the developer is also crying crocodile tears here. If it was really the neighbors holding them back from a more urban LAYOUT (as opposed to intensity of development) then they would gladly re-arrange the buildings as you mentioned above. I suggested such a move in my last post on Lloyd Farm- here’s an image of what that might look like:
      Lloyd Farm with Parking Re-Arranged to Create positive Public space

      They have resisted that at every turn, and that is the tell-tale sign that they either don’t understand what makes a site urban, or don’t care. They’re pointing fingers at the adjacent neighborhoods, but it’s really about Harris Teeter’s brain-dead requirements.

      1. Patrick says:

        One more item worth mentioning- I just found Damon Seils’ original comments on the Lloyd Farm project in 2011 when he was on the Planning Board. This proposal didn’t come in with an urban flag flying high only to be beat into something mediocre by neighborhood opposition. Take a look:
        ———
        originally posted at: http://www.orangepolitics.org/2011/09/lloyd-property-concept-plan
        ———
        Carrboro’s joint advisory board on September 1 reviewed a concept plan for a large commercial development on 40 acres at the intersection of NC Highway 54 and Old Fayetteville Road. Residents of southern Orange County know the property as the Lloyd farm. Cows still roam what is one of the last large parcels of relatively undeveloped land in the town. What people may not know is that the southeastern portion of the property, across from Carrboro Plaza, is also the last remaining property in Carrboro zoned for large-scale commercial development.

        The concept plan involves a shopping center anchored by a 50,000 to 55,000 sq ft grocery store. Carrboro Vision 2020 identifies the southeastern portion of the property as an opportunity for new commercial growth. Although the remainder of the site—which abuts Carol and James streets in the Plantation Acres neighborhood—is zoned for low- to moderate-density residential development, the concept plan proposes to extend intensive commercial zoning (known in the Carrboro Land Use Ordinance as the B-4 zoning district) over much of property.

        General Comments

        We agree with the developer that Carrboro needs more commercial space. As described in Carrboro Vision 2020 policy 3.3, and further specified on the town’s zoning map, “opportunities for new commercial growth exist…across from the Carrboro Plaza Shopping Center.”

        The concept plan for the Lloyd property presents a design for a traditional suburban-style shopping center that gives priority to Highway 54 vehicular traffic and turns its back on the nearest neighbors. Yet, the Land Use Ordinance describes the B-4 zoning district as one that permits “higher buildings and increased density over that allowed in the B-3 zone. This zone is intended to create an attractive, concentrated business district.”

        Therefore, we urge the developer to adopt a mixed-use urban model for the core of the site, providing an enjoyable retail-oriented streetscape—interspersed with public amenities—that includes multiple levels of retail, office, and commercial uses, and possibly civic and residential space. Connections to adjacent neighborhoods should be attractive and inviting to pedestrians and bicyclists. The plan should provide substantial buffering to protect existing residential neighborhoods. We offer more specific recommendations below.

        Site Design
        Vision 2020 policy 2.22 states, “where development is deemed acceptable, there should be well defined dense development with areas of well preserved open space.” The concept plan for the Lloyd property strives to achieve the preservation component required but does not acknowledge that greater density can facilitate preservation of the site.

        The Lloyd property has the potential to (1) serve as an attractive gateway to Carrboro that introduces visitors to the quality of architecture and pedestrian activity that we would like to see throughout the town; (2) act as both a commercial destination and a community space that allows for socializing and recreation; (3) encourage walkability for the surrounding residential areas; and (4) connect to existing neighborhoods, community spaces, and transit facilities.
        We encourage the developer to concentrate the development on a node in the southeastern portion of the property. We recommend an interior streetscape flanked by two- to three-story buildings. We recommend that the developer abandon the concept of out parcels, incorporating that square footage instead into the major retail structures (going to two or more floors to do so). This approach could begin to suggest the kind of density in the interior of the property that might avoid a classic suburban-style site design—and still manage to preserve 40% or more of the existing open space.
        The integrity of the nearby residential neighborhoods should not be compromised (Vision 2020 policy 4.52). The town’s zoning map shows an appropriate separation between the B-4 zone and the existing residential neighborhood on Carol Street. It is not appropriate to place a B-4 zone adjacent to an R-20 zone, unless the conditional use permit provides for substantial buffering.

        Access and Transportation

        Carrboro Vision 2020 policies 4.51 and 4.52 state that developers should prioritize bicycle and pedestrian access not only on the development site, but also in areas adjacent to the site. This approach can be exercised in several ways in the development of the Lloyd property.

        Pedestrian and bicycle improvements are clearly needed for crossing Highway 54 from Main Street to Carrboro Plaza. Adding such enhancements will invite users of both shopping centers to walk from one site to the other and to take advantage of the ample parking at Carrboro Plaza, possibly reducing the demand for parking on the Lloyd property.
        Vision 2020 states, “All shopping centers should be connected to residential areas with increased pedestrian access.” Bicycle and pedestrian paths, such as the Frances Lloyd Shetley Bikeway that links North Greensboro Street and Shelton Street, should be included wherever possible for interaction with the adjacent neighborhood. The concept plan’s suggestion of a path from Carol Street into the site is a good one. Also, consider an approach to security along this path such as one might find in a campus environment.
        Carefully consider how pedestrian paths and amenities both internal and external to the site will be attractive and inviting for pedestrians.
        Provide ample bicycle parking, including covered bicycle parking, near the primary entrances of buildings.
        Provide one or more sheltered bus stops, and design the site to allow a Chapel Hill Transit route to come through the development.
        Consider seeking a reduction in the required parking on the basis of access to public transportation and pedestrian traffic.
        Carefully consider the traffic impacts of the development on surrounding residential streets. Carol and James streets especially may be used as vehicular cut-throughs by users of the development.
        Address concerns about a vehicular connection from James Street. Explore reuse of the existing connection through the US Post Office property.

        Uses

        Honoring the needs of the neighborhood will be vital. These needs may include amenities beyond the commercial, retail, and office uses presently envisioned by the developer. Green spaces, a composting/recycling site (Vision 2020 policy 5.12), and inclusive recreational spaces may be useful examples. In addition, Vision 2020 policy 3.61 states, “While our citizens may not be able to meet all of their consumer needs in Carrboro, it is important that the town encourage the widest possible diversity of locally operated businesses. The objective is a balanced portrait of convenience…” This policy should influence how the development provides space for businesses that are not yet available in Carrboro and the adjacent neighborhood in particular.

        Consider providing neighborhood amenities that complement larger commercial uses.
        Consider incorporating social and recreational elements to diversify the uses of the site and to relate better to the adjacent neighborhood, including community spaces within the buffer areas.

        Environment

        Pursue strategies that reflect current trends in green design and construction, including but not limited to the strategies described in the Planning Board’s “Green and Sustainable Buildings Checklist,” provided as an attachment to this recommendation.
        Have a certified arborist assess the site to determine which trees can and should be preserved and whether some trees are nearing the end of life and need not be hindrances to site planning and development.
        Assess the streams/wetlands near the southeast of site to determine whether they can be removed or should be protected.

  2. […] It’s a Bad Idea to Let Suburban Grocery Stores Design Urban Environments (City Beautiful) […]

  3. […] 4,026 views: Lloyd Farm: What Happens When You Let a Grocery Store Chain Do Urban Design […]

  4. […] Last year, my most widely read posts on CityBeautiful21 were about one subject- the proposed Lloyd Farm development, a crappy 20th century strip mall concept that greatly underused the site and missed the mark in many ways. I’m not going to rehash the problems with the proposal, but anyone who wants a rundown can read my final piece before the vote here. […]

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