Push to improve Greensboro after Trader Joe’s rezoning battle

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Groups that were at odds over the plan to bring a Trader Joe's to Greensboro are coming together to see if there are lessons to be learned from the controversy.

Community activists, developers and Greensboro city planners were the panelists at Thursday's Action Greensboro Lunch and Learn meeting.

One goal, try to answer the question: Did all the fighting over the grocery store chain hurt Greensboro?

"I'm really concerned that it seems like we're not hospitable to new development," said Joe Wheby, a small business owner who has changed his mind on the Trader Joe's debate.

"Initially, I thought it was a bad idea. But once I realized the footprint of the land and the buffer zone that the zoning commissioners mandated through their conditions, I thought it was appropriate for that parcel," said Wheby.

Meeting attendees also heard from Mike Kirkman with the City of Greensboro Planning Department. He said he'd like more people to learn about the zoning process so standard procedures don't come as a shock to the public on future rezoning questions.

Kirkman said this process taught him that many people are now willing to get involved in city matters through social media or email.

Scott Kinsey with Friendly Coalition said they have 5,000 people on their email list. Kinsey said that includes people from more than one dozen neighborhoods, not just those closest to Friendly and Hobbs.

"I think the neighbors have to have a voice too," said Kinsey. "I think that process worked in this particular case."

Developers would disagree. John Lomax, with Lomax Properties, talked about how several companies, which specialize in business development nationwide, bypass Greensboro for places like Nashville or Charlotte. He said this decision may discourage other companies looking at the Triad for expansion.

Tony Collins, a former Greensboro Zoning Commissioner, agreed with Lomax. He said the area lost more than simply a grocery store. It lost an opportunity to improve the quality of life in the city.

"Trader Joe's was not going to solve our problems in Greensboro but this did keep two major developers from coming here," said Collins.

Kinsey argued it didn't have to be so difficult. He believes the chain could have moved into one of several vacant properties around the city rather than trying to force its way onto the corner of Friendly and Hobbs.

"A single developer or a single retail shop shouldn't come in and say, 'Because I want to come to Greensboro it's okay to tear down homes or rezone neighborhoods,'" said Kinsey.

Developers said retail stores attract other retail stores and that's why the corner was so attractive.

In this case, at least five property owners signed off on the plan to bring the store to that corner before it ran into opposition and Trader Joe's ultimately gave up plans to move into Greensboro.

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