South Carrollton/South Claiborne Walgreen's Redevelopment: One Site, Three Plans
Note: Red lines define proposed building footprints in each of the three exhibits.
Exhibit A: The Dangling Carrot. Exhibit A is the "grocery store" site plan presented to the public by Walgreen's developer and legal counsel as the proposal allowing New Orleans citizens to finally "get their grocery store" in Carrollton. I have named it "The Dangling Carrot." In this design, the Walgreen's store is setback from South Carrollton with nearly half of the block from the intersection occupied (200 feet minimum linear distance from the Carrollton sidewalk to the edge of the proposed building) with a parking lot--an orientation more suitable for suburban or exurban Walgreen's locations. On the plan, the grocery store footprint annotated as "Robert's Supermarket" is shoved in the far back corner of the city block away from the intersection hemmed in behind the existing NOFD fire station in a seemingly disadvantaged location for visibility from both South Carrollton and South Claiborne. In this presented site plan, the Walgreen's building has more square footage than the proposed grocery store which conventionally doesn't quite seem logical. The layout of the buildings and the configuration of the parking is atrocious--especially given the fact this site lies within a tight urban setting. The site plan makes no attempt to lessen the visual impact of the upfront parking scheme (and reliance upon landscape elements to be the sole "softening" element alone reveals a site plan flaw). Exhibit A's layout is not compatible (not in compliance with the law) with the requirements defined within the Carrollton Avenue Overlay Zone. And finally, the poorly designed plan falsely portrays the appearance of a cohesive/joint "team" site plan featuring both outlets which isn't the reality. Instead, each is a legally separate site to be developed completely independent of the other. The problem is the truth doesn't positively frame the discussion of the reality Walgreen's wants to portray.
With all the above discussed negatives, there's a actually one bigger problem with Exhibit A: its NOT the actual plan currently before the City Council. In fact, I believe calling it a ruse--and therefore my monkier of The Dangling Carrot--is a proper and appropriate title. See Exhibit B. Exhibit B: The Unattractive Girl Behind the 1-900 Sexy Voice. Exhibit B is the Walgreen's site plan that in reality currently sits before the New Orleans City Council awaiting the requested zoning variance approval or disapproval. In this plan, there is no grocery store--only a swath of open land behind the fire station bound by Nelson and Dublin Streets. The orientation of the Walgreen's building is the same as The Dangling Carrot, but there is no grocery store denoted on the site plan. The pill being pushed is that once Walgreen's has their store in place with the currently proposed layout, the space remaining on the backside of the city block awaits for the desperately-desired grocery store. Over the past seven years, Walgreen's has realized it was going to be very difficult to do what they wanted to do (build a competition-free suburban-layout on site) without a grocery store component. Therefore, they followed a strategy that played up the grocery store angle to seduce neighbors who otherwise would likely adamantly oppose Walgreen's Number 23,091 at South Carrollton/South Claiborne squandering the immediate area's last remaining legitimate property big enough to contain a full-scale grocery. Ah, but if the Walgreen's proposal included a grocery store then perhaps many would be willing to accept another drug store (along with the tradeoff of yet more blight at the to-be disregarded Earhart location). Therefore, The Dangling Carrot was drafted, and most importantly distributed--and some neighbors (most vocally from Fountainbleau) have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
With all of that said, I would like to clarify something. I am in no way saying that Walgreen's and Robert's Fresh Market are in collusion and that Mr. Robert isn't serious in his desire for a store at this high profile intersection. From what I understand there is a chance this is the case based on some of the personal relationships involved, but I honestly don't buy such a theory. I suppose it is very possible Mr. Robert is being played by Team Walgreen's, however. Certainly, the layout and location marked for the Robert's in The Dangling Carrot is not in the most advantageous or marketable location. I would suggest the Walgreen's-derived siteing very purposely places Robert's at a disadvantage as both stores would both certainly be in competition for the sale of some products. What I do think is this: Walgreen's doesn't care if the Robert's is built or not built or if an actually built Robert's manages to stay open or fails at this site--they'd actually likely prefer it to fail. All they know is that in order to satisfy the politicos and the politico's constituents is that the "grocery store" component has to be (to borrow part of my now favorite cut-and-run company's slogan) the sizzle. The reality of what happens on the site a year from now or five years from now has nothing to do with it. Walgreen's has paid tons of money since the late-1990's to have development rights at this site--which, provided they fulfill all zoning requirements, is their legal right. Back at HQ in Deerfield, Illinois, something has to happen soon to justify the ongoing hefty expenditure. Thus, the ingenious Dangling Carrot approach.
Exhibit C: The Dionisio Sensible Alternative. Rodney Dionisio is an architect and a resident of Carrollton. On his own accord, he has developed an alternative site plan featuring two separate buildings for both Walgreen's and Robert's Fresh Market. His plan is appropriate to the sensitive nature of the site's urban surroundings and meets the "on the street" conditions of the Carrollton Urban Overlay Zone. I believe he did say that a parking space variance would be required in the above plan, but he actually also developed a second scheme that featured additional rooftop spaces on top of the grocery store building (which I actually prefer--and I believe this design feature should be included in all New Orleans area urban box stores). The building configuration is the same in his rooftop parking version, but some of the surface parking geometry is altered to allow for the access ramp. In his plan the desirable urban "containment of space" created by the building facades along the streets is achieved in lieu of the dead space surface lots between buildings and streets create--as is proposed in the Walgreen's pitched Exhibit A and the non-pitched Exhibit B. The parking is situated between the buildings with the buildings serving as containment preventing the Veterans Boulevard "sea of concrete" appearance. Mr. Dionisio has also appropriately provided the grocery store with more square footage than the drug store footprint (which Walgreen's isn't going to like). His effort illustrates that the design challenges and the ownership realities of this site can indeed be made to work.
To quickly conclude this long-winded post in Cliff Note fashion: Walgreen's has presented Exhibit A (The Dangling Carrot) to the citizens of New Orleans as a re-development proposal that in addition to a new Walgreen's store additionally fulfills Carrollton's wishes for a new full-service grocery store. In reality, the exact site plan of Exhibit A is not the site plan currently seeking a zoning variance and subsequent approval by the New Orleans City Council, instead it is the site plan of Exhibit B (The Unattractive Girl Behind the 1-900 Sexy Voice) . The site plan of Exhibit B (again, the one being voted on by the City Council) does not guarantee a grocery store, but only space where a grocery store could be potentially situated. Walgreen's is very purposely glossing over this very relevant fact and in this author's opinion pulling the old "bait and switch" which appears to be working flawlessly on some well-meaning neighborhood residents. Meanwhile, a concerned citizen and Carrollton resident who happens to be an architect drafted up site plan defined above as Exhibit C (The Dionisio Sensible Alternative) which appears to be the compromised, appropriate design solution. Is it possible to have a dialog between all relevant parties leading to such a design becoming implemented where Walgreen's get it's new store, Robert's Fresh Market expands to Carrollton, and the citizens of the adjacent neighborhoods are no longer subjected to the existing pathetic eyesore and are able to buy pork chops without having to venture to another ZIP Code?
Complete archive of THE THIRD BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS posts on this subject (some info maybe outdated):
14 March 2006
26 June 2006
28 June 2006
11 July 2006
17 July 2006
My new slogan: New Orleans NOT Non Orleans.
TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Walgreens, Shelley Midura, Carrollton, Urban Planning