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Today's top story: Big box coming to Chapel Hill?

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Developers hoping to attract a major retailer have acquired a purchase option on a site in northern Chapel Hill.

The national brand retailer would be one of two “substantial businesses” in a mixed-use project off Eubanks Road, near the Interstate 40 interchange, says Dwight Bassett, the town’s economic development officer.

“I’ve heard Target. I’ve also heard Costco,” says Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. “BJ’s [Wholesale Club] is the one I’ve heard most.”

Broker John Morris confirms the project would have retail, office and residential components. He won't name possible tenants.

“All of that is rumor mill at this point,” he says. “It’s going to be a very complex project. It’s going to take a while to work through the paces.”

The developers hope to bring a concept plan to the Chapel Hill Town Council in May or June, before the council breaks for summer. A concept plan is a rough outline that lets town officials give developers feedback before a formal application.

Read more on this in Saturday's N&O and Sunday's Chapel Hill News. And tell us what you think at


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I'm detecting an

I'm detecting an incongruence between this post of yours and your other one in this thread that expresses distate for Walmart.  What people want, as very clearly as voiced by their actions, is the thing you thing is bad for them, namely Walmart or something similar.

Generally speaking, that is.  It's possible that the people we're referring to specifically in the part of Orange County that this pertains to are different.  But the success of the nearby Walmart at NHC suggests otherwise.

The anti-Walmart attitude becomes a problem when it becomes so pervasive amongst the people with local poltical power that a Walmart (and a bunch of other stores) are built barely on the other side of the county line simply because they perceive our county as being so hostile to them.  I mean, take a look at all the stores straddling the Orange / Durham border.  They're almost entirely on the Durham county line side.  That's obviously not an accident.

The practical effects of those stores are virtually the same as is if they were built on our side of the county line, except that we get 0% of the tax revenue instead of 100%.  When that starts happening en masse, as it has in the last 10-20 years (or maybe longer since I wasn't paying attention before that), it's a sign that dogma has triumpthed.  And when dogma triumphs, anywhere or anytime, it is bad.

I have no idea what kind of store the people in the northern part of the county want with respect to this dicussion but whatever it is we should give it to them because the absolute worst thing is to open businesses in our county and then have the residents of our county drive right past them into the neighboring county to buy stuff.  Writing someone, anyone, off right off the bat just because of pre-conceived notions is a bad idea IMO.

BTW, I just read today (on this site that I could still find the link to if someone wanted it) that of the 100 counties in NC, Orange is 1st in per capita income and 78th in retail sales.  That is awful.

Power to the People

Reasonable, I don't think it's incongruous to be open to larger scale commercial activity in Chapel Hill and express a distaste for siting another Walmart in Chapel Hill (there's one in Hillsborough).

The problems of Walmart are well documented. The company's policies - especially those that shift costs onto local taxpayers - makes it difficult to determine if it's a net plus for a community. Given that we already have a Walmart in the northern part of the county (Hillsborough), it would be interesting to see if the sales and property taxes derived from its operations are a net positive or not.

As far as stores "right across the line", I shop at BestBuy and Target in Durham just like many other Chapel Hillians. When discussing how many local folks travel to Durham to shop at these "big boxes", I like to point out that Target's % for schools program (they donate a fraction of their sales to support local schools). This program, which usually lists 2 or 3 Chapel Hill schools in the top 5 it locally supports, can be used as a rough guide.

I do understand the "dogma" problem. Trying to discuss "big box" has been difficult, most of the local political discourse lacks any nuance. I hope I get some credit for taking that unpopular subject on during the last 3 election cycles. There are areas of concern. Competition with "big boxes" does impact local businesses (which, statistically, have a higher commitment to the community they operate in) but that is a consideration that lies outside of our zoning framework.

Whatever company wants to build out on Eubanks, the scale and type of development will have to fit within existing development plans: Rogers Road Small Area Plan, the Northern Area Plan, the existing LUMO, Comprehensive Plan and various zoning overlay districts. Since most local development gets the special use permit (SUP) treatment (whether it truly merits it or not), you can expect this project to go through a higher level of scrutiny, a greater level of public input.

Whether our current leadership makes some distinction between "big boxes" will become evident during those discussions.

Waste of time to discuss

It will never happen, the council is a hundred times more into social engineering than Will. At least will admits it.

I love how the mantra of the evil Walmart and the wonderful local business keeps getting repeated. It is a local "truth" by now, LOL.

Oops, that's supposed to be

Oops, that's supposed to be a reply to a Citizen Will post instead of a stand alone post.

CitizenWill You sound just


You sound just like Nancy Reagan: "Just say no."

I don't understand why the

I don't understand why the "big box" or "not big box" label has to be applied to everything.  Instead the label that should be applied is "what people want" or "what people don't want."  Is this proposed store (or any proposed store) something that people will shop at?  If so, let it come into existence.  If not, then prevent its existence.

Give the People What They Want?

Reasonable, since the parcel will require a special use permit (SUP) to develop, the Council can specify a number of stipulations having to do with design, access, physical layout, traffic mitigation, etc. Determining if the store is "what people want" is problematic at best and goes beyond the bounds of the LUMO (land use management ordinances).

Of course, when the Council bends over backwards to approve a project, the community has every right to question whether the tradeoffs warrant it.

Look at the troubled Greenbridge project.

As much as the majority of the Council tried to ignore looking at the consequences of siting the project adjacent to Northside, almost dead center of the last remaining concentration of minority owned businesses, they were certainly aware that their approval would bring negative impacts extending beyond the property line. They chose not to consider that tradeoff and, rather, created a new Downtown zoning district with height limits 50% greater than before and 4 times the previous allowable density to make the project possible. Then, under the SUP, they granted generous exceptions even to those limits.

All under the assumption, presumably, that high-priced condos and boutique shopping would reignite Downtown's fortunes (assumptions they should be reviewing in light of their own Lot #5/West140 project).

Is a Downtown peppered with high density luxury condo projects looming over the more human-scale historic properties "what people want"?

You would think so given the largesse the Town has already bestowed on that vision.


BJ's Warehouse just closed 4 stores in Georgia and 1 in Charlotte, NC.  It's also facing a possible LBO by dominant stockholder Leonard Green. It tends to site its stores in more highly trafficked areas which doesn't match the rumored site.  That would seem to weigh heavily against a move to Chapel Hill.

Unlike BJ's, which has just settled a class-action suit over ovetime pay problems, Costco would be a tenant whose corporate policies are more worker friendly. Costco has shown itself willing to develop its workforce, the pay isn't too shabby and hasn't relied on local governments, like Walmart does, to subsidize both its employees and its development. I've heard that a lot of Durham's Costco customers are from Orange County. Supposedly a new Costco in Chapel Hill would siphon off some of that customer-base but maybe the growth rate in Durham is strong enough to support that loss. Would Costco be willing to invest in a site that won't support a mega-footprint?

Target? The area is fairly saturated with them (as Elvisboy has noted previously).

Yes, Will

You have stated why there is no commercial business growth in Orange co. It is because people in power think like you do, that the business has to meet your moral requirements in order to have the perceived privilege of doing business in our poopy little county.

So there will be a lot of talk and in the end no business in their right mind wil site here, there are too many expensive requirements made by the ultra socialist local governments.

Save your pennies folks, you will need them for the gas to drive to Durham to shop. Funny how principles go out the door when you need a new computer.

Expressing a preference...

John, just expressing a preference.  I prefer a high-wage commercial entity which has a track-record of being a net positive to communities over one, like Walmart, which routinely offloads its business expenses onto the shoulders of local taxpayers. 

I understand your concern that the local SUP process could levy arbitrary conditions which become a disincentive (I've been involved in trying to remedy that) but its a stretch to say that Chapel Hill wouldn't approve a project based solely on the way a business treats its workers.

Yeah, they need to be kind

To their employees, pay a living wage and pay full benefits, plus like the failed Greenbridge site they must waste some money on LEED certification, to appease the feel good Eco gods.

Which of course will repel any decent business, and result in their locating in Durham instead, where great things are happening.

It will be soooooooo entertaining to see all the protests that always bloom inside the invisible progressive fence around orange county when someone actually wants to site a for profit business there!!


Interesting! Scale, type of business and how it fits with the Northern Area and Rogers Road Small Area plans will be decisive factors.

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About the blogger

Mark Schultz is the editor of The Chapel Hill News and The Durham News.