Following last week’s announcement that three Meadowbrook Shopping Center buildings would be demolished for a renovation of the historic shopping center, concerned residents on Wednesday packed a site-plan conference for the proposed project.
After owner Clara Belle Wheeler was essentially denied permission to develop residential apartments at the site a few years ago, a new plan to build a drive-thru CVS Pharmacy that could anchor redevelopment of the entire shopping center has been proposed.
Some of the same residents who opposed the residential development at the site several years ago raised questions about the impact the new project may have on traffic. One resident said he’s concerned the new CVS project is just one piece of an intended redevelopment project that should be considered holistically.
The site plan, which accounts for the demolition of ALC Copies and two vacant buildings — formerly the Tavern restaurant and Anderson’s Carriage Food House market — was presented by city officials and the developer, the Rebkee Company.
Traffic and site plan contractors from Kimley Horn and Williams Mullen were also at the meeting and answered the public’s questions.
Ashley Davies, a Williams Mullen land-use consultant and former Charlottesville zoning administrator, offered an overview of the project.
“The CVS will be located up on the corner” at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street, Davies said.
“As part of the urban corridor, mixed-use district, the city has minimum and maximum setbacks. They want buildings that are pulled up to the street. They are really trying to maximize the pedestrian nature of that area.”
“As you know, it isn’t a great area for pedestrians, cyclists or automobiles,” she said.
In order to improve those conditions, the proposed site plan will reduce the number of traffic openings from nine to two. The nearly 4-acre site also would include green space that buffers the entire site and add nearly 30 new trees.
Residents were mainly focused on what traffic conditions will be like if the project comes to fruition. An identified concern was whether traffic could routinely back up on Barracks Road, as there would be no way for motorists to immediately turn left out of the shopping center onto U.S. 29 Business.
Terrell Hughes, a Kimley Horn traffic consultant, said a traffic plan for the project is still being developed.
He said tentative traffic mitigation measures include the extension of the left-turn lane on U.S. 29 Business southbound and the installation of adaptive signal controllers — similar to the ones being installed further north on the highway as part of the Route 29 Solutions project.
Hughes said the team putting together the traffic control study has been calculating existing traffic patterns at the shopping center and the Emmet Street and Barracks Road intersection. Numbers for projected customer traffic at the new CVS also are being counted.
Changes on Barracks Road, such as the creation of new turn lanes into the shopping center, are being considered, too.
“It’s almost there,” Hughes said. “We’re doing a safety evaluation and waiting on police crash reports, but we’re getting close to submitting it.”
Nancy Summers, of the Barracks-Rugby neighborhood behind the shopping center, said she’s befuddled by the proposal to presumably relocate the CVS store that’s in Barracks Road Shopping Center, across the street.
“It’s a worse location,” she said. “It creates all these problems the city has to solve. … The site could become a less accessible spot.”
“They’re putting themselves in a strange position. I don’t understand why it’s a sensible move.”
Heather Newmyer, the city planner overseeing the project, said the city would eventually need to address traffic at the site, regardless of the development or the developer.
Wheeler said that the development has been a concept for the shopping center since the late ’90s, when the national pharmacy chain first approached her about a potential site on her property.
A few tenants had occupied the now-vacant buildings until recently. Wheeler and several business owners had gone through a few well-publicized spats and legal proceedings that eventually paralleled the economic recession.
Wheeler said the shopping center’s more than 50-year legacy, the gigantic neighboring Barracks Road Shopping Center and traffic throughout the rest of the city have increased congestion at the intersection in recent years.
Meanwhile, since inheriting the site from her family nearly two decades ago, Wheeler has been working to improve her lot that’s currently valued at $4 million.
“Something has to be done with this area,” Wheeler said. “I own it and I can tell you: it looks terrible.”
Although none of the stores that align the southeast end of the parcel will have their leases directly affected by the project, Wheeler said Meadowbrook Pharmacy owner Willie Lamar plans to relocate his business.
One resident suggested that Wheeler’s comments about her regard for her tenants were disingenuous, as the arrival of a CVS would essentially “drive a stake in the heart” of Meadowbrook Pharmacy.
Lamar, who owns multiple properties and is the mayor of Madison, declined to answer questions regarding the proposal. He did confirm Wheeler’s comments, however.
He said relocating his store, which is one of the two locally owned pharmacies in the city, is “our plan if the project goes through.”
Timothy Heaphy, a Barracks Road resident who opposed the previous application to build two residential towers at the site in a one-acre lot at the opposite corner of the proposed CVS, said he’s not exactly opposed to the new development. However, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia questioned Wheeler and whether a similar project could be proposed later down the road.
“The whole parcel should be looked at holistically,” Heaphy said. “I opposed the massive residential building, and the Planning Commission wisely agreed to deny that application. I fear it may come back and this new project is not being considered comprehensively.”
Wheeler seemed to signal that such a project could still be a possibility.
“I have no specific development plan for that one acre of grass, except that it needs to have something on it — something that can be an apartment complex for graduate students with one or two bedrooms that generates almost no traffic and has all of its parking under the building.”
“That’s something, but it isn’t on the table here,” she said.
A date for the Planning Commission hearing on the site plan has not been set. Newmyer said it will be presented before the commission once the site plan is ready for a more comprehensive legal and design review.