Archive for Monday, January 31, 2011

Board of Zoning Appeals to hear concerns about downtown Dillons project

January 31, 2011


A plan to rebuild the aged Dillons grocery store on south Massachusetts Street soon may be facing the equivalent of getting stalled in the checkout line.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to hear on Thursday two key variance requests for the project, which is beginning to draw more concern from neighbors.

The board last month declined to take action on the two variance requests after concerns about parking, residential traffic and the store’s general layout were brought up.

“We need a new grocery store there,” said Rob Farha, who is part of a group that owns an apartment building immediately north of Dillons. “The current store is dilapidated, but I think to make the project fit properly and to have the parking work properly, there needs to be some changes to the design.”

Dillons late last year announced that it plans to raze the 1960s-era store at 1740 Mass. and replace it with a new store that would be 10,000 square feet larger and would have several new amenities such as an outdoor dining area, Starbucks, a Chinese deli and several new organic food departments.

But Dillons also is proposing that the new store would face the north, rather than facing west toward Massachusetts Street. That part of the project has required at least two requests for variances from city code. They are:

  • A variance that would reduce the amount of parking required for the store to 129 spaces, down from 150 called for in the code. The current store has 178 spaces.
  • A variance from the city code requiring the store to be set back 25 feet from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Instead, the store wants the setback reduced to zero, meaning it could go right up to the sidewalks much as downtown stores do today.

Neighbors haven’t objected much to the two specific variances, but rather have expressed concerns that the layout of the store will increase traffic in largely residential areas. The company proposed a drive-through pharmacy lane off New Hampshire Street, and also proposed that a two-way drive leading to the main parking lot be located on New Hampshire street.

Bob Gent, who lives a block east of the store, said residents are concerned about more store traffic going through the neighborhood on New Hampshire and 18th streets.

“The two-way drive is a big issue,” Gent said.

City Planning Director Scott McCullough said Dillons officials and some members of the neighborhood met recently to discuss issues including the building’s northern orientation, setback, vehicle and delivery truck access. But he said there was “no final resolution on what Dillons might revise to address the neighborhood’s concerns.”

Sheila Lowrie, a spokeswoman for Dillons, said the company was currently evaluating the comments received from those neighbors and valued their feedback.

But Lowrie declined to comment on whether the project would remain feasible if the city’s zoning board does not agree to the necessary variances.

The city’s zoning board acts as a quasi-judicial board. Generally, if the variance is not granted, Dillons could not appeal the decision to the City Commission, but rather would have to file an appeal in Douglas County District Court.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.


Phillbert 7 years, 3 months ago

The longer this gets dragged out the more likely Dillons is to just abandon the whole thing, then the neighborhood would get to live next to a closed grocery store rather than a new one.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

The concerns from the neighbors are not unreasonable. Dillon's adopting a take-it-or-leave-it stance would be very unreasonable.

Phillbert 7 years, 3 months ago

Dillons deciding that the changes the neighbors want would make the store economically nonviable wouldn't be unreasonable at all. It would just be business.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

Taking steps that will keep traffic from flooding into the neighborhood will not make the store economically non-viable, and likely wouldn't dramatically change the plan that Dillon's has proposed.

Phillbert 7 years, 3 months ago

No, but the issue of the setback variance would. Cut 25 feet off both sides of the store and you have a much smaller - and less viable - retail space.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

I think that if they can address the traffic issue, the setbacks won't be that big an issue.

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 3 months ago

Dillons can easily walk. May be unreasonable, you may not like it, but it could easily happen. I'll let the neighborhood know where you live when that happens.

Keith 7 years, 3 months ago

"I'll let the neighborhood know where you live when that happens."

Stalker much?

jafs 7 years, 3 months ago

And then Dillon's might lose a lot of business, if people went elsewhere to shop.

The concerns are reasonable, and the meeting that was held was supposed to be about hearing the neighbors' concerns - why wouldn't they be interested in accommodating them?

If they're not, then why hold the meeting at all?

Loretta James 7 years, 3 months ago

I use to live at babcock i went to one meeting there and several of Barker group were down right rude. I wonder how many people commenting woruld like dillons to tell them how to spend their money. If the store closes I feel sorry for a lot of residents that get their grocery at dillons.

sherbert 7 years, 3 months ago

Why do the stores on W 6th, like Smashburger, get by with NO setback? It looks horrible, but if they can do it, why can't Dillons?

akuna 7 years, 3 months ago

The area where smashburger is has been zoned with the smart code to allow for mixed used, downtown-like developments. Personally, I think it look much better than the set back strip mall land that we have grown used to.

somebodynew 7 years, 3 months ago

I am just glad I didn't have to ask a bunch of people before I built my house. I am sure some of them are much better designers than the architech I used (at least in their minds). And why is it just because I live in the county increased traffic flow by Semi trucks is not a worthwhile issue when the neighbors bring it up before the biggest building in Douglas County get the go-ahead???

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

The lot is rarely filled so I see the parking variance request as legitimate. Not a big deal. Customers come and go most of the day.

A rehab at this store location should be a big plus for all the neighborhoods concerned. I say work it out.

Having trucks idling in front of long time residential properties at all hours of the day needs to be changed. I doubt this activity was taking place 50 years ago. Ask the drivers to wait in the parking lot or on Mass Street. AND turn off headlights to avoid lights shining into homes.

A different design could have deliveries backing in with trucks facing south..... eliminates north wind blowing directly into the storeroom.

Would knocking walls out of the south end of adjoining spaces give Dillions what they need? like Dillions accomplished at the other two remodels?

This new renovation could offer customers a lot new house ware selections that would reduce driving.... maybe.

To date I have not heard anyone speaking against the remodel.

Loretta James 7 years, 3 months ago

At a meeting at Babcock, Dillons said that all deliveries would be between the hours of 6 am and noon. That is the only time they accept deliveries. and all the small truck traffic is going to unload off massachusetts st. Like bread trucks ect. I thought they were being very symphatic with their design and traffic problems. Times are changing and with change comes traffic. I use to own a house on Lake st in north Lawrence they came in a built a new house on every vacant peice of ground over there. I didnt like it so i moved. maybe some of them shouldnt have brought a home so close to a store.

tir 7 years, 3 months ago

I hope both sides can each give a little and compromise, so that this project can move forward. There are many more positive than negative impacts to the new store. I for one look forward to a better, expanded selection of products and more departments, and I would hate to see this opportunity lost because Dillons and the neighbors were too stubborn to give a little to make this happen.

coloradoan 7 years, 3 months ago

As I said peviously, be glad for the centrally-located store. there is none in central Topeka worth shopping at.

The reduced parking spaces could be somewhat offset by bike racks - a win-win situation. No one seems to put up good bike racks anymore.

I like the reduced setback, IF there was quasi-sidewalk cafe with awning, etc between the street/sidewalk, and the main building. My favorite Whole Foods has this although in a strip mall setting. The bakery, coffee, and deli feed into it nearby.

The truck issue can be handled in part with anit-idling rules, and with driver accomodations, such as electric plug-ins for cab functions and/or a drivers' lounge. Hope you all can work it out.

grimpeur 7 years, 3 months ago

I hope they can make the store more pedestrian-friendly (reduced setbacks help), expand the bike parking next to the door and design a truck circulation pattern that minimizes the impact on the New Hampshire St. residents. Ideally, only one two-way entrance/exit would remain on NH: the one by Rocks.

I appreciate the reduction in unnecessary parking, which only encourages people to drive walkable distances and last year meant a bump in sales tax to support these unnecessary car trips.

Thanks Dillon's for your investment in an important neighborhood business!

Loretta James 7 years, 3 months ago

I hope they get it settled also so plans can continue but from the people i heard from the Barker Neighborhood they seem to want it all their way or nothing. One guy in their group was rude to some of the seniors at Babcock. His parents should have taught him better.

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