The flip side of success

Town Council approved plans for a Wegmans to be built on the site now home to Performance Automall. While most residents of Chapel Hill and beyond welcomed the news, dozens of households had mixed reactions.

If Wegmans is successful, it will bring in $336,000 in gross property tax receipts and as much as $1.5 million in projected sales tax revenue to be split with the county. Bringing in that much business also will bring in heavy traffic.

The most sensible way to enter and leave Wegmans would be from U.S. 15-501, at the traffic light in front of the State Employees Credit Union. But SECU owns a short section of the slip street that runs from the traffic light all the way to Hardee’s. And SECU apparently feared that allowing Wegmans traffic access to that strip would make the SECU property less attractive to a potential buyer who would want to redevelop it in the future.

Thus, Wegman had to site its main entrance on Old Durham Road, routing traffic through a quiet residential stretch. Already during rush hour, residents who live on the side streets have a hard time getting in and out of their neighborhood because of heavy traffic going between Chapel Hill and Durham along the two-lane Old Durham Road.

Having lived in a neighborhood along South Columbia Street between UNC Hospitals and the bypass, I can empathize with the concerns of Wegmans’ neighbors. During extended rush hours (by the time the hospital rush ended, the campus rush would begin), it was impossible to enter or exit my neighborhood from South Columbia. Any time I tried, I had to resort to throwing myself on the kindness of strangers. And their kindness was at a premium when they were hurrying to work in the morning and anxious to get home at night.

While the traffic was more than annoying, it also let me know that the value of my house would stay strong. Being within walking distance of the hospital and university made my property all the more valuable. And that will be true for the homeowners within walking distance of Wegmans, too.

All but one of the side streets had an alternate path, albeit circuitous, in and out of the neighborhood. For the one street that didn’t, council included a provision to monitor the traffic count and install a traffic light, stop signs or other remedial action to make sure the neighborhood was not inaccessible during periods of heavy traffic.

Buying a house is the biggest financial investment many of us make. Knowing that the investment will hold its value or appreciate offers some comfort, maybe enough to offset the irritation of taking a different route in and out of the neighborhood during certain times of day.
— Nancy Oates

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3 Comments

  1. Nancy, is there a firm plan to objectively measure the success (or failure) of the Wegman’s deal?

    By firm, I mean a plan in place now.

    By objective, I mean measuring more than the sales and property revenues which will supposedly flow forth.

    For instance, will the Town be looking at tax revenues from our long time grocers – like Foodlion, Harris Teeter, Wholefoods (Wellspring) – and shorter term grocers like Trader Joes – which are within the Wegman’s blast zone? Is this another case of shuffling the deck over increasing the size of the pie?

    Will there be any measures, beyond what you mentioned, of traffic impacts in the surrounding area? Will the Town measure upticks in traffic within the neighborhoods that have alternative egress to see if folks “in the know” also use them as an ingress to Wegmans?

    Besides traffic, Wegmans promises a bit of an increase in the impervious surface in that area. Is the Town and County ready to track that impact?

    Is the town ready to take these measures and determine the cost – if any – of citizen subsidized “improvements” to mitigate traffic, environmental or other adjacent impacts?

    What about those jobs? I haven’t seen any mechanism put forward that is transparent enough to give the community the confidence that we’re getting the kind of quality jobs promised (recall the dozen Northside jobs Greenbridge promised – what happened to them?).

    Wegmans is an economic gamble that so many electeds have praised in an “only upside” way.

    Before we get too far into the future, it would be more than nice if there was a framework (the kind of framework we’re missing for so many of the recent projects plaguing Town) to determine if the gamble was worth it.

  2. Bruce Springsteen

     /  November 10, 2017

    “For instance, will the Town be looking at tax revenues from our long time grocers – like Foodlion, Harris Teeter, Wholefoods (Wellspring) – and shorter term grocers like Trader Joes – which are within the Wegman’s blast zone? Is this another case of shuffling the deck over increasing the size of the pie?”

    You forgot another grocery store that is within Wegmen’s blast zone. Hint: It’s the largest grocery chain in the country.

    Then again, with respect to Orange County we don’t have to worry about the change in tax revenues from this grocery chain because (1) it’s in Durham County and (2) it serves a clientele that Orange County doesn’t bother competing for, which is why it’s in Durham County instead of Orange County.

  3. plurimus

     /  November 11, 2017

    Bruce,

    I kind of doubt people who grocery shop at Food Lion or Walmart (myself included) will suddenly switch to shop at Wegmans.

    Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods (Amazon) perhaps.

    I think Will’s point about cannibalization was tax revenue, which as you point out will not include WalMart.

    As far a WalMart goes, things have changed radically since that (and other) decisions were made. Not sure the same input would arrive at the same decision today.

    Given the changes that are coming and the departure of BCBSNC and significant cuts at NIH, Chapel Hill is less tax wealthy than it has been in the past. Future decisions will be a lot more consequential.

    The larger point about whether these questions are even being asked, let alone answered by the town staff (who are after all responsible for collecting and presenting the decision making data with a recommendation) stands.

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