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: 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.