Walgreens approved

Published 11:27 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

City Council gave its unanimous approval to a new pharmacy in downtown Wednesday night, but the affirmation came without a piece of the project the company considered crucial.

The proposed Walgreens near the intersection of North Main Street and Constance Road will not be able to have an exit onto North Main, the City Council decided. The project will be allowed to have an entrance only there, while both entrance and exit will be allowed on West Constance Road.

According to developers CRES-EG Development LLC, the pharmacy insisted upon having an exit onto North Main Street and would not build without it.

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But city officials were just as adamant that an exit onto North Main would create the potential for more crashes at one of the city’s busiest intersections.

In an unusual move, city traffic engineer Robert Lewis and Police Chief Thomas Bennett spoke at length before the public hearing after the usual presentation by Planning Director Scott Mills. All three urged the council not to allow the exit.

“We do not recommend allowing any changes that have a high potential to further degrade the capacity of an already overstressed corridor or increase the crash rates,” Lewis said.

He said the city had recorded 81 “reported” accidents at the intersection from 2009 to 2012. That number excludes those did not result in injury or property damage greater than $1,500.

A proposal born in the Planning Commission to limit exit only during congested hours did not win support with Bennett.

“The police department does not believe that’s feasible,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of people that totally disregard the signs. They do it all over the city.”

Carroll Collins of Kimley-Horn and Associates, a design consulting firm working for the developer, said the statements did not reflect “what’s going on in the real world.”

He argued drivers would not attempt to exit onto North Main during congested hours.

“The driver understands that’s not a safe move,” he said.

Council members, however, agreed with city staff, with some even drawing on personal experiences with traffic at the intersection to help them come to a decision.

“I think it’s already hazardous, and I think it would just make it worse,” said Mayor Linda T. Johnson, recalling several close calls she’s been involved in. “It’s much easier to come out on Constance.”

“This is a very good project, and we definitely need the revenues,” Vice Mayor Charles Brown said. But, he added, “You cannot go against safety.”

A motion to table the vote failed because, as Councilman Gardy put it, an additional month “is not going to accomplish one thing.”

A unanimous vote approved the drugstore with an entrance only on North Main. It was not clear by Friday whether Walgreens would still build the store.