The face of downtown Carrboro is going to change drastically in the next five years, and there isn't much masked protestors or anyone else can do about it.
As new developments add chain hotels and big-box drugstores to the skyline, it's becoming more of a challenge for Carrboro to maintain its unique, local business community.
Alderman Sammy Slade says there's only so much local elected officials can do to maintain locally owned businesses when national chains seek out property.
“I definitely wish we could have a say on what kind of businesses we could allow within downtown,” Slade says. “Zoning is certainly a tool for defining the scale and what kind of traffic and the kind of density of a building, so we certainly do have that tool. It just falls short of being a tool for deciding whether we can support a locally owned business or not.”
On Feb. 26, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing for a rezoning request from CVS that would allow a two-story, 24-hour store at 201 N. Greensboro St. – a one-block property adjoining a historic residential neighborhood.
Head back up Weaver St., and the map of downtown continues to change. The five-story Hampton Inn & Suites – the first phase of the 300 E. Main St. project approved in 2008 to redevelop the block that's home to Cat's Cradle and The ArtsCenter – will be finished by June. Main Street Properties says the retail and restaurant spaces on the ground floor of the hotel are 70% full, but they have yet to announce the businesses.
Laura Van Sant, a property manager and partner in Main Street Properties, says she's hopeful that the whole project will be finished in the next five years. A Carrboro native, Van Sant says it's not her company's intention to change the character of downtown.
“We know what has made Carrboro the cool place it is – all the local businesses and the fact that you have unique things here,” Van Sant says. “If you fill up downtown Carrboro with the stores in a mall, why would you come to downtown Carrboro?”
Still, the question remains as to whether the increased retail space at 300 E. Main can be filled by local businesses or if franchises will fill the gaps, as they have threatened to do in places like 201 N. Greensboro.
Slade says the town can try to market itself as a location for small businesses that fit specific sectors that Carrboro is already strong in, such as the local food movement and alternative health care.
“We can try to make Carrboro known for that kind of business,” Slade says. “It's more like in the positive, not in the banning of chain stores – that we have more power.”
BACKSTORY Roughly one year ago, a spin-off Occupy group took over the old WCOM building at 201 N. Greensboro St. in a protest against the new CVS, arguing that the store would be out of character with the rest of downtown Carrboro. When the aldermen indicated they wouldn't likely approve the rezoning request, CVS asked for a delay to come back with a revised plan. TW