Car-Oriented Drug Stores: Scourge of the Urban Corner

We’ve all seen this happen. A community gets a good, walkable street going and then who swoops in? Walgreens, or Rite Aid, or CVS. And they want a big old corner lot, with a bunch of parking and a drive-through — and they tend to get it.

"Urban" Walgreens -- ruining a perfectly good corner near you. Photo: ##http://www.commercialrealtygroup.com/2003_sales.htm##Commercial Realty Group##

That’s what happening in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood right now. The sad part is, Walgreens is planning to move right into an area with zoning that’s supposed to promote a good pedestrian environment.

Mary Newsom at The Naked City explains the all-too-familiar way this is playing out:

There’s a lot of discussion, led generally by planning commissioner Lucia Griffith, an architect, about the proposed drive-through window the Walgreens would build. An aside: The property is in a pedestrian overlay district, a zoning category intended to make a more pedestrian-friendly area. Drive-throughs, with driveways and vehicles going in and out, are generally accepted as not pedestrian-friendly. Yet they are allowed in this pedestrian district. Whatever.

But here’s the larger issue that I don’t hear anyone discussing. The property is now zoned for O-2, for office development. That zoning would allow an office building, and if it was larger than 30,000 square feet it could include a small bit of retail, but it would take approximately 80,000 square feet of office space to allow as much retail space as the Walgreens wants – 16,000 square feet. So in order to have a stand-alone, one-story Walgreens with a drive-through lane, the developers are asking for – wait for it – a more urban zoning category.

I am still waiting for a planning staffer or a planning commissioner to push for a truly urban design, which would have a multi-use building, that meets the sidewalk, with ground-floor retail space with windows and door on the sidewalk, offices and/or residences above.

Here’s the best part: Newsom asked the developer why he didn’t instead build a multi-story office building with ground floor retail space. He said that he would be required to build too much parking.

Try harder, Charlotte.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Virginia Bicycling Federation shows a cute PSA explaining bike boxes. Greater Greater Washington explains how Safe Routes to School make everyone’s life easier. And Cyclelicious highlights Boulder’s new real-time bike counter.

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