By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council unanimously approved a request at their April 11th, meeting to modify an existing Conditional Use Permit for a new 53,000 square foot Harris Teeter Store and a 14 fueling position gas station at 1000 N. Lake Park Blvd.
The Council first approved of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the development during their August 11th, 2015 meeting.
In April of 2016 the Council approved of a request to modify the permit to accommodate traffic pattern changes.
At that time updated plans were submitted to the Planning Department showing a new traffic pattern on North Lake Park Blvd. Town officials had been communicating with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on a traffic pattern. The issue was whether or not raised concrete medians would be required on Lake Park Blvd and concerns from area business owners and residents about negative impacts of restricting traffic flow in that area. NCDOT officials changed their position and said that hard-medians would not be required for a new intersection at the entrance to the project.
Updated plans showed a traffic pattern that did not require raised medians restricting traffic flow to area businesses. Instead, painted medians would be used. The plan also called for relocating the existing traffic light at the entrance of the neighboring Federal Point Shopping Center south to the new entrance of the Harris Teeter project.
Part of the plan required acquiring land along Lake Park Blvd from the adjacent Wings Store and the ABC Store to accommodate a turn lane and widening Lake Park Blvd in that area.
The Council approved of modifying that plan in April 2016.
Following that approval Ted Barnes of Barnes Development Company - representing Harris Teeter - sent a letter to Nancy Gibrano of The Wings Group of New York, NY, requesting to purchase a 0.036 acre portion of their property to accommodate additional right-of-way for the Harris Teeter project.
The representatives of the Wing's store responded explaining their ownership's final decision was not to entertain a sale of a portion of the property and Harris Teeter should pursue other avenues.
Without the 0.036 acre of land, the traffic plan would have to be modified again.
In a letter sent to the Town dated March 9th, 2017, Benjamin Hughes, PE - District Engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation - explained, "On January 30, 2017, Jonathan Guy, PE of Kimley-Horn and Associates, provided a Traffic Assessment as requested by the Department. The document provided analysis of the most recent development plan, which is based on maintaining the existing traffic signal at its current location at the Federal Point Shopping Center driveway and proposes the main site access as a right-in/right-out to the south on N. Lake Park Boulevard. Previous development plans were studied with the signal relocated approximately 200 feet south of the existing signalized intersection to the location of the proposed main site access on N. Lake Park Boulevard; later studies relocated the signal and main site access to intersect N. Lake Park Boulevard opposite Bennet Lane."
Hughes explained that all proposed developments are required by Department policy to identify mitigation improvements to the roadway network if at least one of the following conditions exists when comparing base network conditions to project conditions:
• The total average delay at an intersection or individual approach increases by 25% or greater, while maintaining the same level of service,
• The Level of Service (LOS) degrades by at least one level, or,
• The Level of Service is graded as “F.”
Hughes explained, "The Traffic Assessment showed that the existing signalized intersection of N. Lake Park Boulevard and the Federal Point Shopping Center driveway currently operates at an overall LOS "A" with 7.5 seconds of delay. Analysis with the development traffic utilizing this signal degrades the overall LOS to "D" with 48.7 seconds of delay. Due to the significant intersection degradation, mitigation measures are required and were identified to be a dedicated southbound left-turn lane on N. Lake Park Boulevard into the Federal Point Shopping Center driveway. The existing right-of-way on N. Lake Park Boulevard is 60 feet in width. Designs using asymmetrical widening to provide the southbound left-turn lane have shown that the addition of the left-turn lane exceeds the available right-of-way width and as such, require right-of-way acquisition from multiple private property owners. At this time, at least one owner has expressed an unwillingness to sell property frontage to help make this widening possible."
He explained, "Without the warranted left-turn lane at the existing signalized intersection and with the location of the main site access as currently proposed, the projected development traffic is not able to be mitigated according to Department policy."
Hughes cautioned the Town about traffic delays and explained, "Consequently, significant traffic delays are to be expected as a result of this commercial development. The traffic generated by a development of this size and scale in this location is unable to be adequately mitigated. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the overall traffic volume intensity of this development be curtailed through the enforcement of existing zoning regulations."
He explained, "The Department is willing to move forward with approving a permit for this development without the necessary left turn lane if that is the desire of the Town of Carolina Beach. In order to move forward, we request a resolution from the Town expressing the Town’s support for approving a permit for this development without the necessary southbound left-turn lane at the intersection of US 421 (N. Lake Park Boulevard) and the Federal Point Shopping Center driveway."
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously at their March meeting to recommend Town Council approve of the new traffic plan and modifying the Conditional Use Permit.
During a March 28th, workshop meeting, Council member Leann Pierce expressed concern with traffic congestion in that area of North Lake Park Blvd and the safety of pedestrians crossing the four lane road. She asked, "Have we ever looked at or considering between that first stoplight where the old Food Lion shopping center is and the next stoplight.
That area has grown and grown and groan" and, "We have the two restaurants and now we have the arcade and we have the subway and the bank and the hardware store. It is impossible to pull out of there. It's impossible to walk across the street. And I see people standing in the middle of the street waiting for the other side to clear."
Pierce asked if there are options to install crosswalks in the area because, "It is awful and we haven't even started into the summer time."
She said her concern wasn't necessarily the traffic congestion because people can pull out and turn around elsewhere adding that, "I do care about the pedestrians and I see more development in that congested area" from the existing stoplight at Federal Point Shopping Center and the intersection of North Lake Park Blvd and Saint Joseph Street. She said, "All of that is just congestion from one to the other."
Town Manager Michael Cramer said the Town could ask the North Carolina Department of Transportation for a review of that area. He added, "I do think you'll find that maybe some of the things that change in the next few months with that intersection might benefit us."
During the Council's April 11th, meeting Jonathan Guy, PE of Kimley-Horn and Associates, explained, "The Harris Teeter will generate less trips than is what out there today" because former businesses that were once located in the adjacent Federal Point Shopping Center including Food Lion, a movie theater, several restaurants and other businesses have closed or moved and, "All of that would generate more trips than what the Harris Teeter would. So the traffic demand at this intersection would be less than what it would be if that center was operating today at full capacity."
Councilman Steve Shulttleworth asked, "Would that also include increased occupancy in the Federal Point Shopping Center? Because right now what you are saying is the proposed Harris Teeter would have less overall traffic than if Federal Point was there and fully occupied. What happens when they are both there and fully occupied?"
Guy explained, "What would happen under a worse case scenario, you will see degradation of the level of service at the intersection. Again, this is worse case analysis. I mentioned Memorial Day."
Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "I don't disagree that probably the new Harris Teeter may be a similar impact to what we had there previous, or maybe less. We also have to remember we use to have the old shopping center with all of those impacts and we also had Jubilee Park. We are forgetting about Jubilee Park. What we are doing is putting a facility back in the area that already had an impact. It would seem - I'm not a traffic expert - you are, but that you're analysis makes sense."
Wilmington Attorney Steve Coggins spoke on behalf of Wings saying, "Wings regrets it has not been in better communication and in participation over the past two years. My presence here today indicates that that is over and that we are supportive of this project and look forward to working closely with Harris Teeter for this to be the best project for Carolina Beach."
Coggins explained, "The second point is that we have no objection to the plan as proposed or even to the one that was adopted by this council late last year in August with the revision that we do not see a need for the vegetative buffer that is between the south side of the Wings store and the proposed development."
Coggins explained removing the requirement for the buffer in the Harris Teeter permit, "Enhances the chances for interconnectivity between the two parking lots if you would, would be to the best of all concerned."
Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "I appreciate your comments. The timing is unfortunate, but it sounds like Wings kind of wants to integrate and now take advantage of some of the traffic. I was disappointed that they were unwilling to have discussions and cooperate to help us get the best project for the community. Perhaps with hearing this if the Harris Teeter Folks have some adjustments..."
Coggins said, "We are in communications with them and looking forward to moving forward."
The Council agreed to move forward with the proposal presented at the meeting. If the two parties reach other agreements that require another modification to the Harris Teeter permit, those modifications would have to once again be approved by the Council at a future meeting.
Councilman Gary Doestch made a motion to approve the permit modification.
Shuttleworth said, "I'm certainly supportive of the motion and will leave it up to the applicant on that condition on how they do it. I just want to be on the record to make sure, while I understand the Mayor's comments about Jubilee Park and the amount of traffic it use to generate when the Food Lion Shopping Center was open. We've had a lot of development occur up and down Lake Park Blvd. We are about to see another vacant parcel go to a standalone retail user. There is no doubt that the Federal Point Shopping Center has indicated over the years that at some point they are going to redevelop."
He explained, "We are going to impact, dramatically, that intersection with traffic and also Saint Joseph Street" and the Town will have to look at traffic flow in that area in the future.
Councilman Tom Bridges explained, "I'm concerned anytime someone tells you well, you can do it as long as you put it in writing that you are the fool that made that decision. I'm glad Harris Teeter will come." He said when the existing Federal Point Shopping Center was built in 1984, "This Island was different. We've got a lot more development. A lot more traffic. Certainly it will be incumbent on us to continue to look at this. This is a decision, if we make, we will have to keep a close eye on this because we have to come up with some solutions. It's going to be a problem down the road. It's not going to get any better."
Updated plan for a new Harris Teeter Store to be built on North Lake Park Blvd in Carolina Beach. The Planning Commission voted to recommend the Town Council approve a request to modify an existing permit for the project at their upcoming April 11th meeting. The change focuses on the design of the entrance to the store and fuel station. A previous plan called relocating an existing traffic light to the new entrance but now the light will remain at the entrance to the adjacent Federal Point Shopping Center. (Lake Park Blvd appears at bottom of image).