Big Box Suburbia

Doug Davies
Dec 19, 2016 · 3 min read

Finally, after what feels like 10 books of Paradise Lost, we are now seeing some sound decision making in Waterside Village with the denial of Lidl’s PUD amendment. Unfortunately, for Waterside Village, it feels too little, too late. The decision, (http://www.stardem.com/news/local_news/article_ed37f967-4bba-59b3-b119-53a5e8431f66.html — if you don’t have the Star Dem, then just keep reading…) makes a few points that I wish had been asked years ago when Waterside was being first proposed.

The first argument, and most pivotal to the denial is, “do we want a store of this size (big box retail) along our highways?” Well, I hate to break the news, but we have that literally down the entire bypass (see: target, Lowes, Khols, Dicks, Acme, JC Penny, Harris Teeter, etc. Not to mention the sidekick stores of Chili’s, Chick-Fil-A, Mc. Donalds, Dunkin Doughnuts, and Ruby Tuesdays) it literally defines the bypass experience. That said, I do appreciate the sentiment; regardless of how late we came to this realization. Retrofitting suburban sprawl before it’s finished is going to be easier than doing it after its built, so this is a huge step.

The commissions denial should also be praised for their desire for more density. Ryan Showalter, representing Lidl, by some bizarre logic extolled to the commission, the benefit of less retail square footage. What?! If we think back to my article on Value Per Acre, you will remember just how nutcase this sounds. Less retail square footage and more parking (relative to retail — they proposed less lot coverage too) means the property is simply worth less as a tax paying entity to the town — not good for us!

Clearly, Ryan Showalter and the Lidl team don’t know how smart we are; we don’t want valueless, sprawl storefront in our town! Its the giving season Lidl, come back with a proposal that incorporates a park once (in the rear) strategy tied in with other retailers so we get a true streetscape. You spoke of friendly competition, and while empty parking lots in front of other stores might make you feel victorious, it is a true detriment, and waste of real estate for the Town and its coffers. I for one am not interested in any empty parking.

The original design for this lot was three stand alone building, for unknown uses. While this does give us an unknown, we should at least expect a density to match. The town should be open to conversations of what do we do with the rest of these empty lots, in pursuit of the comprehensive plan. Clearly these big lots are not wanted in the plan, so lets not give in. A regional shopping destination does not need to be big box stores and tens of thousands of empty parking spaces. 5th Avenue in NYC is a “regional shopping destination,” did they need 25,000 parking spaces? There are plenty of design alternatives to what we have so far.

This decision, I think, is truly a momentous occurance. While the commission might not agree, this is where, when all of you were asking what you can do to help, its your time to shine. The commission is already beginning to think how these remaining lots can be utilized to fit better within the comprehensive plan, why don’t we help them out? Lets support projects that bring buildings to the street edge, that engage the street, and create true public space. Lets let them know that we want something different, it is possible, and we (and they) deserve nothing less.

I will spare everyone the obvious here (count how many supermarkets we have in town and leave your number in the comments…), and only say that I am not against big box, just unnecessary, shitty, design. And that shitty design can also mean having too much of the same thing.

I will stop here with the two graphics below. This is 100% to scale, let the magnitude of what we have lost sink in with these two photos. But be optimistic that we still have room retrofit.

Remember this awesome place? Yeah this could happen… See below!
Ok.. this is a bit of a cheat, who would put this like RIGHT there, but the concept is still clear, that photo above fits in that tiny green square there (super dope!). Look at the public life that could fit (with big boxes) in that little space. SO COOL.
Doug Davies

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Urban Planner, Designer, and Landscape Architect increasingly disconcerted about the world around me.