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Will traffic worries sink this grocery store redevelopment on busy Providence Road?

Arboretum office park.
Arboretum office park.

At Charlotte City Council’s zoning meeting Monday night, council members wrestled with the question: How much growth is too much?

Traffic concerns are often a main objection to plans for new developments, but they’re steadily growing in busy parts of south Charlotte, where developers are adding thousands of new apartments, along with office buildings, shops and restaurants.

Developer Childress Klein is seeking to change the Arboretum office park from office-only to mixed use, which could include a 50,800 square-foot grocery store, as well as more commercial space. The 5.4-acre site is at the southeast corner of Pineville-Matthews Road and Providence Road.

Jeff Brown, a lawyer representing the developers, said the plan will adapt the more-than-30-year-old center into “more of what we’re seeking these days.”

“Obviously traffic is a concern we’ve heard a lot about,” he said. He and the developers said the connectivity improvements, new traffic lights and other enhancements should mitigate those concerns. Charlotte planning staff are recommending approval of the plan, and City Council is expected to vote next month.

But residents who came to oppose the plan drew long ovations for their concerns about traffic. They’re worried about mounting congestion on Providence Road and the difficulty of turning out of smaller streets such as Winding Oak and Beckmore Place.

“Our neighborhood is in strong opposition,” said Bob Ray, drawing cheers.

City staff estimated the existing office buildings and drive-in bank generate about 2,410 vehicle trips per day. Under the rezoning plan, that could increase to 8,225 vehicle trips per day, more than tripling as the denser development brings more daily visitors to the site.

Residents have speculated the new grocery store will be a Publix, though the supermarket company hasn’t confirmed that.

City Council members said they’re frustrated they don’t have a standard for how much traffic is enough to deny a rezoning petition. They face traffic worries in pretty much every rezoning request they hear.

“It’s tough for us, because there’s almost always a complaint about traffic,” said Ed Driggs, who represents the area. “Does it take gridlock? We need to reach some sort of consensus on what the conditions are.”

Council member Greg Phipps pointed to the oft-quoted statistic of 44 people a day, on average, moving to Charlotte. That growth has people wondering what they can do to stop growing congestion.

“We’re growing. Forty-four people are moving here a day, but the only thing they’re bringing are their cars,” he said. “Because of traffic and congestion, we’re going to stop all development? What is the alternative then?”

But without some concrete standard of how much traffic is simply unacceptable, City Council is left sorting things out on an ad hoc basis, one rezoning at a time. Driggs said further discussion is in order.

“You will not see this thing stamped through,” he said. “We need to talk about this.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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