By Sue Botos
Although most residents and city officials are hungry for the opening of a Whole Foods market in the River Square Shopping Plaza on Detroit Road, homeowners near the site have a few reservations about the latest addition to the local grocery basket.
About 20 residents attended the April planning commission meeting to voice their concern, during a public hearing, over increased traffic and noise they feel will occur once the market opens in 2014. A few even expressed a desire to close off the extension of Hampton Road, which parallels the far western end of the shopping center and often serves as a shortcut to Detroit Road.
A Hampton resident stated that traffic heading to and from Fitworks, which will move to make way for Whole Foods, is bad enough, and that the cut-through should be closed before the market opens. “The stop sign there is a big joke,” she said, stating that no other strip shopping center in the city has direct access from a residential area.
Another homeowner, who stated that he lived on the corner of Hampton and Riverview Avenue, agreed that stop signs are often ignored. He said that he was told by city officials that the cut-through would not be closed, and that the posting of a “No Through Traffic” sign would be futile because police could not enforce it. He added that plans to fence his yard, in an attempt to create a safe play area for his children, were turned down by the city Board of Zoning Appeals because they did not meet set-back requirements. “Residents’ concerns are not being addressed,” he commented.
Law Director Andy Bemer told the residents that the situation would be reviewed by police and fire officials, and that a traffic study of the area is ongoing.
When reached for comment, Mayor Pam Bobst said that several options are being considered regarding the cut-through, including limiting it to northbound traffic only. She also pointed out that presently, Fitworks has a back entrance, which clients start using at 5 a.m. Whole Foods shoppers will enter only from the front of the building and begin at a later time.
Bobst added that the city will ask Whole Foods representatives for more specific information. “We need to respond to the residents and we will do that,” she stated.
Architect Jim Volsky presented the audience with a rendering of the store, which will be constructed in the footprint of the present Fitworks, and the former Rite Aid. These buildings, along with a Chinese restaurant, will be demolished to make way for the approximately 40,000-square-foot market. The drawing showed a modern, glass-faced structure that Volsky said “makes you feel like you’ve arrived when you pull into the parking lot.”
Addressing audience concerns over truck traffic, construction manager Mark Hughes predicted two large truck deliveries in the morning and two in the evening. He said the majority of the store’s inventory will arrive by small vehicles from local, organic vendors. Trucks will enter and exit from the same Detroit Road driveway.
Hughes added that trash will be disposed of in two enclosed compactors, which will be taken from the site for emptying, then returned.
Planning commission member Charles Gustafson pointed out that the area that will house Whole Foods is zoned for local business; those establishments catering mainly to nearby customers. “This is not comparable to a standard grocery store. People will come from a much greater distance. The question is if your store belongs in local business. We’ve turned people down for that criterion,” he stated.
Hughes said that, on average, customers travel three to five miles to reach Whole Foods. He said the Rocky River location, which will be the only one on Cleveland’s West Side, was chosen due to the density of population. “We’re a community player; we take pride in that,” he stated.
Volsky stated that he was not familiar with city zoning requirements and that there are no prototypes for Whole Foods. He said each store is unique to its surroundings. “Our stores have a tremendous effect on spurring other businesses in an area that needs fresh air,” he added.
Gustafson countered, to applause from the audience, that the former Rockport Shopping Center, which once housed a Giant Eagle supermarket and is zoned for general business, would have been a better choice, but was rejected by Whole Foods.
“We prefer to be in the heart of a city,” Volsky explained.
Shopping center owner Dennis Fisher added that “hundreds of thousands” (of dollars) will be invested in site work alone. “In terms of rental income, we were better off with Rite Aid, Fitworks and the Chinese restaurant. We always have an eye toward doing the right thing,” he stated.