Orange County

Chapel Hill approves Wegmans Food Market along U.S. 15-501 near Durham County line

The Town Council voted Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, to allow a Wegmans Food Market to be built on the Performance AutoMall site near the Durham County line in Chapel Hill.
The Town Council voted Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, to allow a Wegmans Food Market to be built on the Performance AutoMall site near the Durham County line in Chapel Hill. Submitted

Wegmans Food Market could bring people from across the region to shop just inside the Orange County line by 2020, officials said after the project was approved Wednesday.

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted for the 130,000-square-foot Wegmans project for 14.7 acres on U.S. 15-501 after delving into concerns about parking, traffic and how the grocer might affect neighboring properties.

The project will replace the current Performance AutoMall between U.S. 15-501 and Old Durham Road. The automall will be moving to the Southpoint Auto Mall near The Streets at Southpoint.

Chapel Hill and Orange County have agreed to pay Wegmans $4 million in incentives if the company creates 185 full-time jobs and 413 part-time jobs over five years and meets annual property and sales-tax revenue goals. Wegmans is expected to generate over $1.8 million in property and sales taxes each year.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce is “really thrilled to have a Wegmans in our community,” said Katie Loovis, vice president of external affairs.

“This is a fantastic company. They have strong wages for their employees, they are very involved in the community, (and) this is going to build our commercial tax base,” she said.

The store is the first Wegmans approved for the Triangle; three other stores are proposed for Cary and Raleigh. The Chapel Hill store will have 750 parking spaces in two lots, including a satellite lot across Old Durham Road that Pennoni engineer Justin Brown said will be largely for employees.

Traffic concerns

Traffic remained the biggest sticking point for council members and residents during the 18-month approval process.

As a result, the N.C. Department of Transportation will require Wegmans to make a number of changes to surrounding roads and intersections. The New York state grocer is expected to add 3,214 more daily trips to the roughly 7,500 that exist now.

Chapel Hill, passers-by and nearby neighborhoods could account for roughly two-thirds of those trips, officials said, with the rest from Durham and Interstate 40.

While council and community members hoped the site’s main entrance could be on the service road that parallels U.S. 15-501, Wegmans was not able to work out a deal with the State Employees Credit Union, which owns the former Blue Cross and Blue Shield building next door.

Instead, Wegmans will have an entrance-only driveway on the service road and leave an access point to the SECU property in case of a future opportunity. Council members said the ability to route some traffic onto the service road is a plus.

Three other driveways will be located on Old Durham Road just east of Hardee’s restaurant, at a new roundabout between Wegmans and its satellite lot, and behind the store for deliveries.

NCDOT also will require Wegmans to add turn lanes to Old Durham Road and at its intersection with U.S. 15-501; a longer median blocking cross-traffic at Old Durham Road and Scarlett Drive; and improve the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and Eastowne/Lakeview Drive.

NCDOT, town and Wegmans officials will continue to monitor traffic on Old Durham Road during construction and after the store opens, Town Manager Roger Stancil said. Wegmans will pay $150,000 to the town toward any necessary upgrades.

HNTB senior transportation engineer Craig Sheffler said areas east of Lakeview Drive were not part of the traffic study, but after hearing from residents, he thinks there also should be a study of existing and Wegmans-related issues in those areas.

Stancil noted there also have been multiple conversations with SECU and UNC Health Care about the traffic effects of the Wegmans project and their future plans.

“What we do know in working with DOT is as those properties develop, there will need to be a revamping of that whole gateway into Chapel Hill,” he said.

The Wegmans plan did little to resolve residents’ worries about spillover traffic onto their smaller, neighborhood streets, but town planner Judy Johnson said there are things the town can do to discourage cut-through traffic.

They have tried to predict the future effects as best as they can, Council member George Cianciolo said.

“The fact of the matter, a (few) years down road, if we see that there are impacts we couldn’t predict, I think it’s not something that is up to the applicant to fix at that point. I think that we as a town – we want this project for the economic benefits – it will be our responsibility then to figure out a way to fix it,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb