This is the first site plan that Whole Foods submitted to the city for its Lakewood store on the old Minyard’s site. Jennifer Hiromoto, who is overseeing the project for the city’s department of development services, passed it along with a couple of caveats. First, it’s not final, and she expects to get a revised site plan by the end of this month, after Whole Foods finishes meeting with neighborhood groups in the area. Second, the proposal asks for a change in the lot’s zoning along Abrams Road in regard to how close the parking lot can be to the street (what’s called a setback). Yes, that sounds dull and arcane, but it may turn out to be a major sticking point.

If anyone would like a copy of the site plan, send an email here. I’ll send you a tiff version later today. We’ve highlighted the pertinent parts of the proposal on this version; the one on file with the city isn’t necessarily easier to read, but you will be able to manipulate it any way you want.

Finally, our crack Back Talk correspondent Norm Alston attended the meeting Whole Foods had with a local neighborhood association last night. He says attendance was very good — they had to go and get extra chairs. His report follows after the jump. Pay attention toward the end. That’s where the setback came up.

At the Parks Estates Neighborhood Association annual meeting tonight (formerly the Abrams Brookside Neighborhood Association, I think) Jonathan Vinson and the Whole Foods folks presented the current thinking on their new Lakewood store. I did not get a photo of the proposal, but major features go something like this:

  • The new building is turned approximately 90 degrees from the current building and pushed closer to Gaston than to Abrams.
  • The Gaston side features significant landscaping and architectural details but no parking and no entrance. There is a 2nd level, outside dining area near Richmond that is intended to allow views of the Lakewood Country Club golf course, over the Club’s wall along Gaston.
  • There is a heavily landscaped, ground level, outdoor dining area at the corner of Gaston and Richmond.
  • The truck dock is not far from where it is now. It is accessed from Gaston, but appears pretty well screened from all vantage points.
  • There is technically no back to the building, but the primary building front faces Abrams and is separated from Abrams by two rows of parking.
  • The southern tip of the site, the part that forms the point at Gaston and Abrams, is parking.
  • The primary entrance to the building is on the southwest corner of the building, which is essentially at the very center of the site. It is a prominent, tall, cylinder-shaped metal and glass feature with a canopy. 
  • At the northwest corner of the building, adjacent to Richmond, is a place for an indoor/outdoor cafe, some vending machines, and bicycle parking. This is envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly entrance and coffee shop.
  • The side along Richmond, between the coffee shop on the west and the outdoor dining area to the east is envisioned as a richly landscaped, neighborhood-friendly area.
  • The new store will be 43,800 square feet. This compares to 28,000 square feet in the current Greenville Avenue Store, 72,000 at the current Preston/Forest store and 89,000 at the Austin Mother Ship.
  • There will be 220 surface parking spaces along Abrams and down into the point at Abrams/Gaston. Only about 30 to 35 will be "small car" spaces. The parking will be distributed in such a way as to minimize the crossing distance from parking to reaching the building entrance.

The Whole Foods team was very complimentary of the area and upbeat about the new store. They reminded everyone of their long history on Greenville and how that led them to understand the character and the lifestyle of the neighborhood so that the new store could address these issues. They were very much to the point that they felt this design, which is the result of much thought and deliberation, was really the best possible solution to all the issues. It was also made clear that their desire was for support for the current design. As noted by Neil Emmons, City Plan Commissioner for District 14 who was in attendance (Robert Weiss, Commissioner for District 9 was also present), the design presented appeared unusually advanced and detailed for an initial presentation to the public.

It was about at this point that the issue that requires the zoning change came to the forefront.  Under the current Planned Development District, the zoning is such that it appears to encourage development on Abrams to be closer to the sidewalk and more reminiscent of the types of development across the street, on the west side of Abrams. The placement of the parking between Abrams and the new building, and the resulting location of the new building on the east side of the lot are not in keeping with these requirements.

Whether or not that was the intention of the PD was a subject of some debate, with Mr. Vinson recounting discussions with individuals initially involved in the development of the PD stating to him that it was not the intention. These assertions appeared to be disputed by some in attendance, most notably Virginia McAlester, who  recalled how that was specifically the recommendation of the architect retained to help develop the PD and how important those requirements had been when working recently with Wachovia. The intention of the PD, she noted, was to create a sort of "Main Street" environment on Abrams.

At the end of the presentation, it was noted that Wachovia had worked with a design committee comprised of the representatives of 6 adjacent neighborhoods  and Whole Foods was asked by Mr. Emmons if they would do likewise. The answer, as I understood it, was yes, but  they reiterated that there were a number of reasons why the current design was overall the best approach.

I look forward to hearing about the discussion at Wednesday’s presentation.

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