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Winston-Salem City Council rejects developer’s plan for Dollar General Store

by Keith Barber

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Winston-Salem City Council rejects developer’s plan for Dollar General Store

he Winston-Salem City Council voted unanimously to deny a rezoning request by a commercial real estate developer to build a Dollar General retail store in a primarily residential area of east Winston-Salem during the council’s regular meeting on Monday.

Dozens of residents from the neighborhood surrounding the proposed site of the retail store, located at the corner of Northampton Drive and New Walkertown Road, attended Monday night’s meeting to voice their opposition to the project.

Sandra Thomas expressed concerns about the possibility of increased vehicle and pedestrian trafic at an already dangerous intersection. Thomas pointed out that the intersection sits on the crest of a hill and it would be dificult for cars going in and out of the store’s parking lot to see oncoming trafic. A school bus stop at the intersection, Thomas said, would only increases the danger to neighborhood children, and the possibility of a tragic accident.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said.

Thomas waved a handful of petitions that she said were signed by more than 125 concerned residents opposed to the project. Many of the signatures were collected during a Dec. 29 meeting at St. Matthew Apostolic Church on New Walkertown Road.

About 60 neighborhood residents had gathered at the church to listen to a presentation from Patton Co. project manager Greg Googer late last month. The residents in attendance appeared uniied in their opposition to a Dollar General Store coming to their neighborhood.

The Rev. Richard Gray echoed the sentiments of many in attendance who expressed concern the store would negatively impact property values in the neighborhood.

“I built what I thought was my dream home,” Gray said. “I didn’t build it with the expectation of having a retail store placed in the center of it. The property value of my home will be affected.”

Harold Hairston, a former candidate for Winston-Salem City Council, expressed his concern that a Dollar General Store would lead to other discount retailers setting up shop in the neighborhood.

“Once we open the door, everybody is going to walk in,” Hairston said. “I don’t want to live by a Dollar General Store so our house values, our properties going down, the respect that we have in our neighborhoods, and all the years we worked here, we’re going to lose all that.”

Local resident Jimmy Norwood echoed that sentiment at Monday’s city council meeting.

“Not this site, not this location for this particular store,” Norwood said. “We on the east side are looking for amenities that are going to make this a better place.”

Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke criticized Googer for failing to get in touch with all the residents in the neighborhood to notify them of a public hearing on the project at the Dec. 10 planning board meeting.

City-County Planning Director Paul Norby told the council that any developer or property owner requesting a zoning change is required to post a legal notice in the newspaper, post a sign on the property with the same information and to send notiication letters to adjacent property owners.

Norby said Googer and the Patton Co. fulilled all three of the requirements. However, he added that workmen from the city’s sign shop had dificulty placing the sign at the corner of Northamption Drive and New Walkertown Road, where it would have been plainly visible to the area’s residents. Instead, city workers nailed the sign to a telephone pole on Northampton Drive. Norby said the planning department strongly encourages developers to contact all residents of the surrounding neighborhood to notify them of a public hearing on a project, and the Patton Co. did not follow the recommendation.

The planning board approved its recommendation to city council after no one showed up for the public hearing on Dec. 10, Norby added.

Norwood took issue with the City- County Planning Board’s approval of the project, saying that the planning department’s recommendation to allow the Dollar General store’s construction did not suit the character of the neighborhood.

The planning department’s evaluation of the proposed development states the zoning request would have allowed for the expansion of a pre-existing commercial-use area to accommodate the proposed 9,100 square foot building. The planning department’s recommendation refers extensively to the county’s current comprehensive long-range plan, known as the Legacy Development Guide. The guide supports commercial use in close proximity to residential areas. Commercial uses can help increase the tax base and enhance property values while bringing jobs and other amenities to “under-invested” areas, according to the plan.

Googer said the new store would have annually brought $10,000 in additional property taxes to city coffers.

Norwood took exception to his east Winston Salem neighborhood being referred to as an “under-invested” area, saying the city council should give the residents time to help shape the Northeast Suburban Area Plan before giving the green light to any new commercial development in that area.

The proposed site lies in the city’s Northeast Ward, but borders the city’s East Ward.

Norby told council members the Northeast Suburban Area Plan is currently in the beginning stages, and will probably not be completed until July of this year. Burke made the motion to deny the rezoning request by property owners Joseph Cho and Pedro Zamora and it passed unanimously.

Derwin Montgomery, the city councilman representing the East Ward, lauded the citizens who showed up to have their voices heard and encouraged the developer to look for another site.

After Monday’s city council meeting, Googer said the possibility of Dollar General Store relocating the proposed store to an alternate site was simply not feasible.

“It’s cost-prohibitive,” he said.

“We’ve already invested about $50,000 in the engineering and things for this particular site with the indication we initially got from the planning department.

We were required to do a lot of plans to get to this point. We would not look at another site in Winston-Salem.”

Brenda Diggs, a resident who opposed the development, hailed Monday night’s decision as a victory for neighborhood residents.

“I think it is an excellent opportunity for the council to understand and to see just how the community feels and in particular both of these wards, but I also think that it’s energizing for us as a community to really begin to look at what we need to do … This is only the beginning,” Diggs said.

She als said she expects residents will remain engaged as the Northeast Suburban Area Plan is developed over the next six months.

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