Dilworth wary of proposed Walgreens

Residents are objecting to a developer’s plan to build a Walgreens drug store in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood, saying the project – and others that could follow – would mar the historic area’s character.

Charlotte-based real estate firm Lincoln Harris has applied to rezone about 2 acres at the southwest corner of East Morehead Street and Kenilworth Avenue, just southeast of uptown and immediately adjacent to the Dilworth historic district.

The company wants to build a 14,540-square-foot, single-story pharmacy with a drive-through and a 16,000-square-foot, two-story office building.

The plan would require the demolition of four houses and an 18-unit, Tudor-style apartment building built in 1927. The land in question is owned by Edward H. Springs Interiors, Inc., and Edward H. Springs.

The Dilworth Community Development Association has not taken a formal stance on the pharmacy proposal, and president Tom Donaldson said the group is working with all parties involved. During a recent meeting, however, the leader of the DCDA’s Land Use Committee said she’s inclined to ask the association’s board to oppose the project.

Many nearby residents think retail space doesn’t belong on that corner and would not be the highest and best use of the property, said Cindy Schwartz, the committee’s chairwoman.

Schwartz worries Morehead Street could see more retail development if the pharmacy is allowed.

 “What gets built next door?” she asked in an interview. “What gets built next door to that?”

Lincoln Harris declined to comment, but company officials previously told WSOC-TV and the Charlotte Observer that they are working with the neighborhood to address its concerns.

The rezoning application is scheduled for public hearing at 6 p.m. Sept. 24.

Dilworth was developed as Charlotte’s first suburb in the 1890s and once connected to downtown by the city’s first electric streetcar. The neighborhood’s curved roads and dramatic landscaping set the tone for much of Charlotte’s future character, according to the city’s website.

Morehead was a primarily residential street in Dilworth that has become an office and mixed-use area and boasts a dense, mature tree canopy and distinctive wide setbacks, according to the city’s recently adopted plan for the area.

If the Morehead-Kenilworth corner is redeveloped, many would prefer to see an office building and parking deck than a pharmacy and drive-through, said John Fryday, the Land Use Committee’s immediate past chairman.

“There is not really any support in the neighborhood for (the current proposal) that I’ve heard,” said Fryday, who lives near the site. “ … The people closest to it for the most part would rather see a more intense use that’s 9-to-5, five days a week than the long operating hours and just the type of use that a drug store is.”

The drive-through window would not directly face Morehead or Kenilworth, and the pharmacy’s hours of operation would be limited to 6 a.m. to midnight, according to plans submitted with the rezoning application.

Fryday said the pharmacy proposal seems inconsistent with the city’s Midtown Morehead Cherry Area Plan.

The plan, approved by City Council in February, is not binding but calls for the stretch of East Morehead Street that includes the proposed pharmacy to remain mostly office-oriented and residential.

“The street is not radial, so it is not on a direct route into the Center City, and so is not well located for extensive retail use,” the plan says. “The most appropriate uses are a mix of residential and office uses, to include medical office, clinics, and institutional uses; some retail to serve the immediate population also may be appropriate.”

Both Schwartz and Fryday said the Walgreens is likely to serve drivers going to and from uptown rather than residents of the immediate vicinity. The area already has several pharmacies, including some that are locally owned, Schwartz said.

In addition to opposing the corner’s use for retail, residents also object to the pharmacy proposal on several other grounds. According to Schwartz, residents are concerned that:

  • Demolishing the apartment building would “hurt the fabric of the neighborhood.”
  • Adding impervious surface could further burden already strained storm water systems.
  • Allowing a drive-through on Morehead Street would worsen traffic congestion and set a precedent to which residents are staunchly opposed.
  • The pharmacy’s lighting could shine into the backyards of nearby homeowners.
  • The pharmacy’s parking needs could send excess vehicles onto narrow neighborhood streets not designed for that purpose.
  • Other south Charlotte pharmacies have attracted vagrants and other undesirable activity.

Schwartz and Fryday both said Lincoln Harris generally produces quality developments, and both said the DCDA is not opposed to development when done well. Still, they don’t think a pharmacy is a good fit for that spot.

“The overall concern – that it’s an inappropriate use there and changes the character of Morehead Street – is kind of hard to argue with,” Fryday said.

The debate over the pharmacy comes amid the backdrop of a broader discussion about Dilworth’s future, Fryday said.

Many of the amenities that make Dilworth attractive to residents also make it attractive to institutions such as churches, the YMCA and medical practices. Those institutions’ needs for space have increased over the years as the city has grown, but until recently Dilworth has managed to accommodate those needs with little conflict, Fryday said.

Now, however, some in Dilworth are worried their neighborhood, which largely remained intact as other areas of the city were torn down in years past, could be at risk, he said.

“Dilworth looks at itself and says, ‘Are there parts of us that are being taken away now for “modern use” that we will look back someday and wish we had again?’ ”