CARRBORO - Family Dollar opponents say the retail store is being shoehorned into a longtime neighborhood with no regard or respect for what the community wants or needs.
“We want the character of our community preserved. We want our health and safety protected. We want our natural environment protected, and we want vulnerable populations protected and justice done,” Alabama Avenue resident Claire Hermann said.
Both they and the developer will have to wait another two weeks to find out if the Board of Adjustment approves an 8,100-square-foot Family Dollar for the less than one acre site.
The Board of Aldermen will not review the plan.
Roughly 40 people spoke Wednesday night against building the store. The public hearing began May 16, when developer Will Stronach, of Raleigh-based Stronach Properties, presented more than two hours of expert testimony to a standing-room only crowd.
The Board of Adjustment will meet again June 6 to decide two issues:
• whether to grant a variance so the developer can pave over an ephemeral stream that funnels stormwater from several acres surrounding the site, and
• whether to grant a special-use permit for the retail store.
The variance must be approved by a four-fifths vote and largely hinges on whether the applicant can make “reasonable use” of the property without it.
Stronach and his witnesses testified May 16 that a commercial development only on the part of the site not affected by the stream would not be profitable.
Opponents disagree and have gathered more than 300 names on a petition opposing the project, resident Andrea Foushee said. Other options
Opponents said Wednesday that other commercial projects that could work without a variance, including a doctor’s office, police substation or childcare center. A few also suggested the property be donated for a community clinic or local park.
Michael Adamson said Stronach Properties can’t ask for a variance, because it doesn’t own the property and therefore would not suffer a hardship if denied. Stronach has a contract on the land with an out-of-state family managing the estate of owner Janet Neville.
Adamson also questioned the validity of models that Stronach’s experts presented showing traffic, environmental and neighborhood impacts.
The developer’s virtual tour of the store’s exterior was from so far away it would have been filmed from inside a neighbor’s living room, Adamson said.
“It is an exercise in marketing, designed to give you a subliminal impression that this is what the store will actually look like,” he said.
Adamson said Stronach’s environmental expert even created his own model showing better water quality without the ephemeral stream, because he couldn’t find a model based on a similar piece of property. Stormwater drains throughout the wooded buffer, and you cannot assess the stream’s role by looking where the water pushes aside leaves and the soil is eroded, he said.
Others talked about the secluded street’s role in the community.
Research cannot tell you about children walking over to a neighbor’s house to do homework or skinning their first knee riding a bike on Alabama Avenue, Ramona Jones said. It cannot tell you about people like Odell Council, who freely roamed the community, or the neighbors who called to check when he didn’t show up one day, she said.
“I’m here to let you know that Odell couldn’t have thrived that way in a community where there’s big trucks, outsiders and a lot of foot traffic,” she said.
Christopher Robinson noted Family Dollar’s 18 pending lawsuits and past settlements totaling in the millions over its employment practices, including unpaid overtime and understaffed stores. Rebecca Bennett expressed worries about crime being attracted to the “relatively peaceful oasis.”Crime concerns
Carrboro police statistics show 2,329 crime reports and 634 arrests in the block surrounding Alabama Avenue between May 2007 and March 2012. Only 25 reports and three arrests were on Alabama Avenue, Bennett said.
Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation’s Organized Retail Crime Survey says 95 percent of retail stores were hit by crime in 2011, with many criminals resorting to violence against salespeople and customers, she said. In addition, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention says 1 in 11 Americans are shoplifters, she said.
“Some of those folks are coming out the back door right into our neighborhood,” she said.
Area residents and community leaders also gave their support, including the Rev. Robert Campbell, a local NAACP president and co-chairman of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism, and civil rights attorney Al McSurely.
Both talked about the injustice of forcing unwanted change on the neighborhood, where many of the same black families have lived since the 1950s and 1960s.
“Why is it that we are going to give advantage to the 1 percent and deny advantage to the 99 percent,” Campbell asked. “The voices of the people say that they do not want this, and this is more than just environmental, it is a social injustice that will take place here.”