After years of delays due to concern from residents over traffic and town planning, a new Wegmans grocery store is opening at 1810 Fordham Road on Feb. 24 in the University Heights neighborhood.
The Wegmans brand hails from Rochester, New York, but since the first store opened in 1916, the chain has expanded to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and North Carolina. The store is known for its wide variety of local and organic products, as well as a selection of restaurant-style foods.
Wegmans obtained its special use permit to open a store in 2017, but since then construction has been delayed and amended several times. In 2018, the store was downsized from 130,000 square feet to 102,010 square feet in an effort to reduce its environmental footprint.
“From the time we were deciding on this location, the town has been a great partner,” Laura Camera, a public relations specialist for Wegmans, said in an email.
Due to the location of the new store, residents of University Heights raised concerns about the already overburdened streets getting even more potential traffic.
“The site chosen for Wegmans is totally inappropriate for a business that will generate the volume of traffic Wegmans will generate,” John Goddin, a resident of University Heights, said in an email.
The neighborhood is often used as a cut-through in order to avoid traffic on the main roads.
When concerns about traffic were first broached in 2019, the store obtained a modified special use permit to create a street connection through nearby State Employees Credit Union, which will connect Wegmans to U.S. Highway 15-501.
Goddin said he believes that at the direction of a developer for Wegmans, the town scrapped a plan that would have mitigated traffic in favor of an alternate strategy that constrains traffic to cut-through routes. The streets in University Heights are narrow and lack sidewalks, making an increase in car travel a potential danger.
“We knew about the possibility of cut-through traffic,” Michael Sudol, a planner for the Town of Chapel Hill, said.
Sudol said because of the significant amount of traffic Wegmans would add, the developer was required to implement traffic-calming measures. The extent of these measures include all-way stop signs and an increased number of speed limit signs in the surrounding neighborhood.
Additionally, Sudol said in response to early backlash about the traffic strategies, the town planning department has met with residents several times, including door-to-door walkthroughs of the neighborhood and open meetings at local libraries.
Goddin also said he disapproved of the financial incentives that were offered to the grocery store chain.
One performance-based incentive for Wegmans — once it opens — includes an improved tax valuation if it reaches benchmarks for hiring, store profits and property valuation.
Chapel Hill town manager Maurice Jones said in an email the key identifier of a performance-based incentive is that Wegmans must numerically prove their value to the community before it reaps any governmental benefits. Similar incentives have been awarded to Carraway Village for road improvements, Glen Lennox for creation of office space and Well Dot Inc. for locating in Chapel Hill.
While traffic in the neighborhood may start to increase, Wegmans is providing new jobs to the Chapel Hill community. With a few employment positions still needing to be filled, Wegmans could provide the Town with some much needed economic stimulation.
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