After delays, city council votes in favor of development at Grier Heights shopping center

CHARLOTTE — Plans to expand a strip mall in Grier Heights were supported by the Charlotte City Council on Monday night.

[ALSO READ: Planned grocery store hopes to solve west Charlotte’s ‘food desert’]

A developer wants to bring a Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Goodwill and other small businesses to the shopping center off North Wendover Road currently anchored by a Food Lion.

The vote on the proposal was initially set for May 23, rescheduled for late June and postponed again in July. On Monday, the council finally voted, and the tally was 7-3 in favor to rezone the Wendover Plaza.

The developer wants to replace a credit union that’s currently there and hopes the new tenants will help ensure the grocery store will stay for the long term. Chick-fil-A and Starbucks have already signed on to bring drive-thru-only locations to the shopping center.

“These are significant community benefits,” Councilman Larken Egleston said. “There are others in terms of assuring the long-term stability of the grocery that is located in this shopping center.”

The city’s zoning committee voted 5-to-1 to encourage the city council to deny the request.

The committee didn’t agree with the idea of a fast-food restaurant that’s solely a drive thru.

“I want to support really genuine efforts here to benefit the folks that live in this community and the jobs that it will create,” Egleston said.

It’s a rezoning petition people, including John Holmes, have lobbied fiercely against.

Holmes is a former Chick fil-A manager who says he was fired for speaking out earlier this year when the petition was filed.

“I think Chick-fil-A was well within their rights to fire me for voicing an opinion that was in disagreement with their policies, especially as a corporation,” Holmes said.

Holmes said the rezoning contradicts the city of Charlotte’s goal of only allowing rezoning when it calls for development that is easy to access by walking, bicycling or public transportation.

“This is very telling that the city council’s mind is not geared for the future and is also not willing to uphold their own variances and laws that they are passing, as well,” Holmes said.

Mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve said that we don’t want to support continuing to add drive-thrus,” she said. “We said that in the comprehensive plan. Yet we make exceptions every time there is a drive-thru, so I would still be a no on this petition.”

Holmes hopes his experience working the drive-thru would serve as a cautionary tale when it comes to putting two drive-thru establishments in a high-density area.

He is concerned about traffic congestion, pedestrian and vehicle collisions and pollution.

“As a manager at Chick-fil-A, I would wear a high-res vest and try to cross over to go to the grocery during my break,” Holmes said. “I was almost hit three times.”

The project’s developer changed the petition in hopes of smoothing over concerns and securing the city council’s support.


The developer agreed to provide 500 square feet of storefront for growing entrepreneurs to use for things, such as pop-up businesses.

“Of all these that we make decisions on, there are things that we like about them, things that we don’t,” Larken said. I think we got to figure out on balance whether the benefits outweigh the negatives. In this case, I think they do.”

Leaders from the Grier Heights community supported the petition.

Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that advocates for smart-growth solutions to Charlotte’s sustainability challenges issued a statement: “We’re disappointed in this outcome. This kind of drive-thru-only development does not support the environmental and sustainability practices contained in the Charlotte future 2040 Comprehensive Plan.”

(Watch the video below for past coverage.)

‘We want the people to come’

Some neighbors say they’re worried about the possible headaches the additions may create.

Simone Elliot told Channel 9′s Anthony Kustura she’s lived off Wendover Road for the last two decades. On Monday, she was walking to grab groceries from the Food Lion across the street from her apartment complex, since she doesn’t have a car.

The Food Lion is one of the few stores in the area. Elliot says many of the other shops relocated to nearby Cotswold.

“Things have changed around here, but not this,” she said pointing to the shopping center.

Judy Martin told Channel 9 the new business could spread out the traffic from the crowded Chick-fil-A that often overwhelms the Cotswold area.

Chick-fil-A “starts lining up at 10 a.m. for lunch, so it would be great to have it over here,” Martin said.

Other neighbors said the added business could mean gentrification for the area and the possibility of low-income people being forced from the historically Black community.

Supporters say it could revitalize the area with more options.

“If they build the area up it would bring more business, more people can work, just more attention, you know?” one woman told Channel 9.

Elliot is hopeful the plans will move forward and she won’t have to walk as far for a chicken sandwich or coffee.

“We want a line (of customers) too, we want the people to come,” she said.

A spokesperson from Food Lion told Channel 9 it understands the importance of the store in the Grier Heights community and has no intention of leaving.

Return to this story for updates.

(Watch the video below: Meck County continues to address ongoing problems with food deserts)

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