Planners approve Walgreens

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Three commissioners vote both for and against project

A near-stalemate in the Planning Commission turned into a recommendation for approval of a new pharmacy downtown after some commissioners switched sides to move the process forward.

Walgreens hopes to build a store near the intersection of North Main Street and Constance Road. It would front on West Constance Road and have an entrance and exit there.

But the company also wants a driveway on North Main Street — between the McDonald’s and the Super 8 motel — that would allow drivers to make a right turn off Main into the lot and also a right turn off the lot onto Main.

Email newsletter signup

City traffic engineers had no problem with allowing drivers to turn into the pharmacy off North Main Street but objected to allowing exits from the same location near a congested intersection.

“We have no concerns with the right-in,” said Robert Lewis, head of the Traffic Engineering Division. “We do have serious concerns about the safety of the right-out.”

But a representative for developer CRES-EG Development LLC said Walgreens would not take “no” for an answer.

Carroll Collins of Kimley-Horn and Associates, a design consulting firm, said the traffic study commissioned for the project shows the road is operating at an acceptable — though not optimal — service level and that wouldn’t change with the addition of an exit.

Whitney Saunders, an attorney for the developer, said the traffic study showed only three accidents in that stretch of road during 2008-2010.

“We believe that indicates the safety concerns are minor,” he said.

Bruce Berlin, of the developer, added that most people likely will not attempt to turn right onto North Main Street during times they know traffic is heavy.

“Logically, those customers would not go that way, but Walgreens wants the opportunity for them to do that,” Berlin said.

Having no problems with other aspects of the project, planning commissioners had a lengthy discussion on the exit. Some saw it as a serious safety concern.

“It’s not about what Walgreens wants,” Commissioner Arthur Singleton said. “It’s what the public needs. A car pulling out of there and creating a catastrophe, I cannot sleep with.”

But others agreed with Berlin that most drivers would not go that way.

“I don’t see where this changes that much,” Commissioner James Vacalis said. “You can have a catastrophic accident at any intersection.”

A motion to recommend denial of the project failed on a tied vote, with commissioners William Goodman, Donald Mills, Thomas Savage and Vacalis voting against denial.

An immediate motion for approval was made, with Goodman, Stan Perry and Ronnie Rountree voting against approval.

That meant two commissioners — Singleton and chairman Howard Benton — had voted for both motions. Goodman voted against both motions.

Approached later, Singleton said he changed his vote to move the process forward to City Council.

“City Council has the final say anyway,” Singleton said.

Benton said that was also part of his motive. He also noted that there are ways to remedy the situation if it becomes a problem.

About his switch, Goodman only said, “I’m for safety.”

The proposed project will be taken up by City Council on Dec. 19.