Pressure on Winston’s west side

by the YES! staff

The Winston-Salem City Council approved a rezoning on Monday night to allow Wal-Mart to build a new Neighborhood Center on Country Club Road near Meadowlark Drive.

To keep things in perspective, a Neighborhood Center is a grocery store with a footprint of 41,179. In comparison, the Wal-Mart SuperCenter on Peters Creek Parkway is 211,500 square feet .

To be fair, it wasn’t much of a decision. The developer already had the required commercial zoning and a site plan ready to go from 1998 that would have allowed them to build an unattractive grocery store in a strip-mall layout. The zoning request allowed them to update their plan to incorporate contemporary aesthetics. The store they’re planning to build will feature differentiated façades to mask the fact that it’s one store while giving the illusion of a row of shops in a Main Street setting. Wal-Mart made it clear to neighbors and the city that they would build whether the rezoning was approved or not.

Since the proposal went before the Planning Board in September, neighboring residents have moved into crisis mode, with 250 people who were primarily concerned about impact on traffic reportedly packing a meeting at a local school.

Unfortunately, the city has been its own worst enemy in the rapid development of subdivisions on the west side of Winston-Salem since the 1950s. West Ward Councilman Robert Clark noted the anomalies of the situation. The rezoning request didn’t trigger any notification requirement because the only inhabitants within 500 feet of the site are deer and cows, Clark said. Yet two nearby schools, including Meadowlark Middle School, are overcrowded. He went on to say, “This is probably the worst traffic situation in the West Ward.”

Not incidentally, Clark noted that Meadowlark Drive is one of the few north-south connectors on the west side. The city has been waiting for years for the future Northern Beltway, which will provide north-south connectivity to the west. To the east, the nearest north-south thoroughfare is Peace Haven Road, which developed in the post-war period as a spine to accommodate secluded neighborhoods comprised of winding lanes and cul-de-sacs.

“For many of us, we moved to this area because we appreciate the mature trees, forests, cornfields, the plentiful wildlife,” Dr. Susan Burden, a physician at Baptist Hospital, told council. “The prospect of these features being removed and replaced with commercial development is heartbreaking.”

Growth will continue on the west side, but its two major draws — seclusion and convenient proximity to downtown and the city’s major medical centers — are not mutually compatible in the long run.

In the absence of a major investment in light rail to draw more residents back to downtown, the city should act expeditiously on the recommendations of the West Suburban Area Plan to connect collector streets so that traffic pressure on Meadowlark Drive can be relieved.

The alternative is clogged thoroughfares stuffed with strip shopping centers, and frustrated drivers stuck in suburban limbo. !

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