Innovative design solution blends a big box into a historic neighborhood.
aking commercial projects compatible with adjacent
residential areas during times of urban growth and infill development is a complex
challenge. This task is particularly complicated when historic designations and
active neighborhood associations are involved. Success requires sensitivity to
community issues and innovative design solutions.
This scenario came into play in Charlotte, N.C., where urban
infill is intensifying along the city’s new multibillion dollar light-rail
corridor. The city created special
transit-oriented zoning to promote
development of high-density residential and commercial projects.
Southborough is an 11
-acre, $28-million mixed-use project underway
along the rail corridor. The main anchor is home improvement retailer Lowe’s,
which is building a 140,000-square-foot store with rooftop parking, a 16,000-sf
rooftop garden, a 30,000-sf garden center, and a 4,200-sf outdoor living center.
When the Lowe’s project was announced two years ago, it
immediately drew fire from the historic Dilworth neighborhood, which borders
Southborough on two sides. The Dilworth Community Development Association
opposed the site’s rezoning, arguing that a big-box store did not reflect the
character of the neighborhood and surrounding areas.
Developed in the 1890s, Dilworth is Charlotte’s first
streetcar suburb and features a well-preserved collection of cottages and
elegant homes that now co-exist with carefully controlled adaptive reuse
developments along its main thoroughfares. The neighborhood is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places but has struggled in recent years to
preserve its character amid rising development pressures. As a result, the
rezoning for the Lowe’s store aroused concern and opposition.
Along with the project’s size, the community was concerned
about the anticipated traffic, the impact of ongoing store operations, and whether
such a structure could maintain the historic fabric of the neighborhood.
In light of these concerns, representatives from Lowe’s and local
developer Conformity Corp. initiated an extensive dialogue with community members,
city staff, and other stakeholders. More than a dozen meetings were held to
review plans, discuss options, and generate feedback that was integrated into subsequent
evisions. The neighborhood association also formed a committee that
assisted in designing and rezoning, which ultimately took nine months rather
than the more common three to four months. A great deal of sensitivity was
given to the project’s design including materials and building placement. The
developers wanted to attain community support prior to taking the project to
city council for approval. In order to accomplish this, it took around six
months to design coordination with the neighborhood organization and gain its
support. Issues to be addressed included making the project “feel” residential
and reducing traffic concerns.
One unique element of the agreement involved how the
property would be handled if the store should close. If necessary, Lowe’s and
Conformity would accept responsibility for maintaining the site and placing it
on the market for sale or redevelopment. The developers also agreed on opening
and closing hours, and using shopping carts with brake systems. A donation was
made to the neighborhood to support street improvements. Ongoing meetings
provided updates to keep community members informed about Southborough’s progress.
Ultimately it was the inventive use of the plan’s
residential components, combined with landscaping and green spaces that effectively
camouflaged the big box and made the development work. The master plan was
radically revised to place 67 townhomes and apartments, ranging from 650 sf to more
than 2,200 sf, on the two sides facing Dilworth. The townhomes line the streets
while behind them apartments wrap around the store and face outward toward the
other residential units to create an urban village atmosphere. Each unit has a
garage that ensures residential parking and minimizes visual impact. Fountains,
generous landscaping, green spaces, and courtyards all contribute to the atmosphere
and further screen the retail center from the surrounding neighborhood. A
sculpted trellis with vegetation both shields the view and provides pedestrian
access to Lowe’s through the store’s garden center.