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Neighbors fight shopping center plan at Hobbs and Friendly
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Neighbors fight shopping center plan at Hobbs and Friendly

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Architectural renditions on display during the meeting between neighbors and Halpern Development Co.

GREENSBORO — An angry group of residents confronted an Atlanta developer Tuesday night who was presenting his company’s plans for a shopping center at the northwest corner of Hobbs Road and Friendly Avenue.

At best, residents said, the shopping center would not add anything to the retail offerings already available next door at Friendly Center and at worst, it would ruin the quality of life for neighborhoods and the entire Greensboro community that travels the Friendly Avenue corridor beyond Friendly Center.

“The community doesn’t want it. The community is against it,” one man yelled, interrupting the presentation by Charles Worthen of Halpern Development, which wants to rezone the 6.77-acre residential property for retail use.

The company hopes to build a grocery store and retail shops at the site, which sits just west of Friendly Center across Hobbs Road. The Greensboro Zoning Commission will consider the request at its meeting on Monday.

Worthen showed illustrations of three possible configurations at the site which he said would contain a gourmet grocery store and smaller retail shops.

The illustrations showed a center with the grocery and shops facing Friendly with parking in the back. A brick plaza on the corner of the development showed outdoor seating for a coffee shop that Worthen said might be located in the grocery store’s entrance.

This is the third developer in nearly three years that has proposed building on the land.

One of them proposed building a Trader Joe’s store there in 2014, but after the same type of neighborhood protest Trader Joe’s pulled out of the deal.

Halpern said it doesn’t have a specific tenant lined up for the site.

Only one speaker among the roughly 70 people who crowded the First Lutheran Church community center spoke in favor of the proposed center.

The rest ranged from politely skeptical to hostile as they sometimes interrupted Worthen, sometimes talked to each other and sometimes mocked him during the presentation.

Many said simply that it’s not the specific center they oppose but what it represents: The possibility that commercial development will jump across Hobbs Road and continue west to Holden Road and beyond.

“We’re not opposed to you,” said Alan Atwell. “What we are opposed to is changing our quality of life. We have everything we need.”

Six houses sit where Halpern wants to develop the center. The property is just to the south of the Hobbs Landing development and north of a variety of neighborhoods across Friendly Avenue. First Lutheran, another church and an office building are the only nonresidential developments between the Halpern property and Holden Road.

Worthen said the property would be a high-quality development with a grocery store that would be much smaller than a potential 45,000-square-foot store that his company had first considered.

Residents asked him why the store is needed at all with a Harris Teeter and Whole Foods store nearby in Friendly Center.

He said that the demand for grocery stores in that spot is greater than the supply right now.

“Every single grocery operation that doesn’t have a conflict is interested in this site,” he said.

He described how the developer would leave a buffer to the north of the center and build a 13-foot brick wall to shield Hobbs Landing from noise and light. And he added that Halpern is willing to put those and other requirements into the permanent deed for the land.

But one man said the company is attempting to change once-residential deed requirements, so that’s not a persuasive argument.

“Are you prepared to go to court over those?” the man yelled from the crowd.

“We would if we need to,” Worthen said.

One audience member, Bill Smith, said that he has worked for retail companies, including Belk, and that retail would be a logical step for the property in question.

“I’m a member of this church and we don’t see it as a negative,” Smith said.

Greg Brown, who is a co-chairman of the Friendly Coalition, which represents neighborhoods near the development, said after the meeting that the audience members are emotional about their neighborhoods.

“It went about as well as I expected,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, we’ve sat through three of these, and they’ve all been the same thing.”

The neighbors “are very emotional about their homes and neighborhoods, and so in that light it was very civilized,” he said.

Contact Richard M. Barron at (336) 373-7371, and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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