Dilworth Walgreens wins key approval

A key city advisory panel on Wednesday unanimously recommended approval for a proposed stand-alone Walgreens with a drive-through window in Dilworth.

The Dilworth neighborhood association opposes the rezoning to allow the drug store, saying it violates the recently adopted plan  for the area and that the Walgreens design is too suburban for that part of Dilworth. They would have preferred a mixed-use building, two neighborhood leaders said after the meeting.

“Why is a free-standing retail use acceptable, anyway?” neighborhood activist Cynthia Schwartz said, after the meeting. “There are plenty of buildings in New York with a Duane Reade [a New York drug store chain] on the ground floor. If they want to build that, great!”

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The developer is Lincoln Harris, whose president and CEO is Johnny Harris, an influential civic leader whose family developed SouthPark mall, among many other local projects.  The proposed rezoning, from an office zoning to Mixed Use Development District-Optional (MUDD-O) would allow a two-story office building next to the one-story drug store, with surface parking lots behind both buildings, on a 2-acre site at Kenilworth Avenue and Morehead Street, a key corner near Carolinas Medical Center. The plan would mean demolishing an 18-unit, Tudor-style apartment building that dates to 1927, plus four houses.

Members of the Dilworth Community Development Association who oppose the project contend that the proposed MUDD zoning and a pedestrian-oriented overlay zoning that was adopted for the area earlier this year don’t allow drive-through windows for drug stores. City planners say the zoning does allow drive-throughs, and that the proposed development is consistent with city plans.

Schwartz and architect John Fryday, also from the Dilworth association, said after the Wednesday meeting that in their view the proposed Walgreens violates the Midtown Morehead Cherry Area Plan, which City Council adopted in February. The maps in the plan (see pages 11 and 12 of the plan) show only office and residential uses, not retail, on the site, Schwartz said, and no one in the many stakeholder meetings on the plan ever recommended retail at that corner.

However, the plan says, (page 19): “The street [Morehead] is not … on a direct route into the Center City and so is not well located for extensive retail use. … The most appropriate uses are a mix of residential and office .… Some retail to serve the immediate population also may be appropriate.”

The phrase “to serve the immediate population” drew a question from Planning Commission chair Yolanda Johnson, who asked to hear how the planning staff interprets “the immediate population.” Tammie Keplinger, the rezoning planning manager, said that would mean retail serving both the immediate population as well as others.

About those signs

The “No Walgreens” signs scattered around Dilworth have their own history. They were originally printed for Greensboro residents who successfully fought a proposed Walgreens there, Fryday said. When residents in the Cleveland County town of Kings Mountain were fighting a proposed Walgreens, they bought Greensboro’s signs. After that Walgreens proposal was defeated, Fryday said, Kings Mountain residents offered to donate 138 signs to the Dilworth neighborhood.

Fryday and Schwartz both expressed bafflement at the phrase. “We spent a year on a new plan,” Fryday said. “I don’t know where that phrase came from. We didn’t write it.”

He and Schwartz in July told PlanCharlotte that they believe the Walgreens is likely to serve drivers going to and from uptown, rather than nearby residents. The area already has several pharmacies, including some that are locally owned, Schwartz said at the time.

Charlotte city plans aren’t binding; they’re simply recommendations. Nor is the Zoning Committee’s vote binding on the City Council, which has the final say, although the council generally follows the committee’s lead. Both the council and the zoning committee approve most rezoning proposals.

The developer has made a number of changes to the original proposal to conform to the planning staff’s concerns, including adding more open space at the corner,  providing a winding path along East Morehead Street and widening a buffer behind the development from 10 to 15 feet. Walter Fields, Lincoln Harris’ consultant on the project, has said he believes the proposal does conform to the area plan.

The rezoning is expected to be on the agenda for the City Council's Nov 12 meeting.