Publix developers say supporters sat out 522-23 neighborhood vote

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2014 

— North Raleigh residents voted down a proposed Publix grocery shopping center by a vote of 522-23 Thursday night, but developers say they told their supporters to stay home.

The results of the vote at the North Citizens Advisory Council’s standing-room-only meeting came as no surprise: thousands of residents around Falls of Neuse Road have signed a petition opposing the development.

But in an unusual move, Charlotte-based Morgan Property Group issued a news release just an hour before the meeting, saying the development firm had asked supporters to sit out the vote.

“In the interest of civility, we have advised our supporters to stay home and not attend tonight’s CAC meeting, because we have no desire to pit neighbors against one another,” company president Trey Morgan said in the release.

Earlier CAC meetings on the subject have been contentious, with opponents repeatedly interrupting the developers’ presentation, shouting out questions and concerns about the plan. One of the biggest worries has been traffic – on neighborhood streets and on Falls of Neuse – although most opponents say they’d support a smaller retail center on the site.

Morgan also lashed out at opponents of the 49,000-square-foot grocery via the release: “It is unfortunate that a small and highly vocal group of activists has created a hostile environment that impedes what should be a reasonable give and take between us and the community,” he said. “We feel it is in everyone’s interest that this process not become a circus.”

Morgan’s move could pose a challenge for the Raleigh City Council, which will take the final vote on the rezoning request. The council typically looks to the CAC vote tallies as a barometer of neighbors’ opinion. Public hearings at the council and planning commission typically draw smaller crowds than CAC meetings, which have been a staple of city government for decades.

Publix opponents were quick to denounce Morgan’s claim. “This seems like the sad move of someone who knows they are going to lose overwhelmingly, and wants to be able to make the claim afterward that they didn’t actually participate in the process in a sorry attempt to invalidate the results,” said Tim Niles, who lives near the property.

And Joe Corey, who chairs the North CAC as a neighborhood volunteer, said the move was “disturbing.”

“To me, this should be more central to a developer than anything else he does,” Corey said, adding that he rejects Morgan’s characterization of the CAC meetings as “hostile.”

“I have calmed people down during these meetings when I feel like they’ve gotten personal. I’ve not let it turn into a ‘beat up on the guy.’”

While most CAC votes are done by a show of hands, Thursday’s meeting used paper ballots to allow residents to cast their votes anonymously.

The Publix rezoning heads next to the planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the city council. “That’s the process, and we respect that,” said George Farthing, a neighborhood resident and opponent of the development.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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