By William C. Singleton III
The Mountain Brook Planning Commission at its Nov. 3 meeting voted 4-3 to rezone property that could pave the way for a new Piggly Wiggly in Crestline.
The commission agreed to rezone two lots on Vine Street from residential to commercial and another lot on Vine Street from professional district to commercial. The split vote reflected the sharp divide on the issue, as residents packed the council chamber to support and oppose the rezoning.
Many residents have lobbied for the return of Piggly Wiggly to the Crestline area ever since the former store closed its doors Nov. 3 of last year, displacing 60 employees and ending a 30-year relationship with the community.
But many residents who support the return of Piggly Wiggly oppose its proposed location on Vine Street between Dexter Avenue and West Jackson Boulevard. They say a Piggly Wiggly there would increase traffic and endanger Crestline Elementary students and those using nearby athletic fields.
“We love Piggly Wiggly and want it back in our community, but not at this location,” resident Ralph Bishop said.
Andy Virciglio, owner of the former Crestline store and potential co-owner of the proposed new store, wants to build a 28,250 square-foot Piggly Wiggly Store in the area. The proposal also calls for an additional 92 parking spaces. The property contains office buildings, including an office used by the Girl Scouts and a learning center, and is used as a parking lot.
Jeffrey Brewer, executive vice president for Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, the architect for the Piggly Wiggly project, said Virciglio and other partners examined multiple sites for a new store. But the proposed site represents the best chance to bring a neighborhood grocery store back to Crestline, he said.
“We have one opportunity before us to make this happen,” Brewer said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of effort and energy from a lot of folks to make this a truly safe and inviting new (project).”
Brewer said the development team has spoken with city, police, fire and school officials about safety and other issues and has modified design and site plans to accommodate their concerns.
The development team also hired Skipper Consulting Inc., which conducted a traffic study and made several recommendations to minimize the flow of traffic on surrounding streets. But residents opposed to the proposal pointed out that the study focuses on traffic during school hours and not off hours when students would still be present for athletic activities, a point that caught Commissioner Susan Swagler’s attention.
“I’m really, really concerned about the traffic study not taking those other times (into consideration),” she said before voting against the rezoning.
Brewer said traffic outside school hours is minimal.
Bishop reminded the commission that the city has taken special care through its Master Plan and a White Paper it commissioned in 2006 to establish the proposed Piggly Wiggly property as a transitional area between commercial and residential. He said the presence of a Piggly Wiggly will not only alter the character of the neighborhood but threaten the safety of children.
“I’ve seen many close calls on Vine Street from children running out in traffic, and to multiply the traffic in that area exponentially will likely … result in injury or death to a child,” he said. “I really believe that will happen if you put a large business right next to that school, which is why every study you commissioned has said have a transitional area between residential and commercial.”
Resident Kathryn Corey said city officials, the developer and residents have been working a year to find a suitable location for a new Piggly Wiggly.
“There is not another solution for a grocery store to service Crestline Village,” she said. “That means, if you’re anything like me, you’re taking those dollars outside the city.”
Several residents asked the commission to postpone a vote on the rezoning, but Mountain Brook Planning Commissioner Jack Carl, also a city council member, said the issue has been vetted for several months and should move on to the council.
The council is scheduled to hear the rezoning request at its Nov. 24 meeting.