Walgreens proposal met with little love

Published April 6, 2006 10:28 am
Village center: More than 6,000 people sign petitions; concerns include traffic near a school and the fate of three other pharmacies

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A developer's plan to build a Walgreens drugstore in Holladay's village center - in the midst of three other pharmacies - has generated a groundswell of opposition in this affluent, east-side community.

More than 8,000 people have signed petitions, the Olympus Jr. High Parent-Teacher Association wrote a letter, and Holladay's Interfaith Council passed a resolution against the Walgreens plan.

The proposal was made by Thomas Fox Properties, a Salt Lake City-based development team made up of Holladay natives Tom Hulbert and Brett Fox.

"We already have three pharmacies within maybe 200 feet of each other in the village center. As big and strong as [Walgreens] are, they could easily drive out the other three," said Jim Kastanis, who organized and chairs the 12-member Interfaith Council. "Our concern is not against Walgreens. It's just out of place in that particular area."

The Olympus PTA letter voiced concerns that a planned drive-through exiting onto 2225 East would pump up congestion that occurs when parents drop off and pick up their children at the nearby junior high.

According to the letter, most residents are angry that another drugstore would even be considered for the property.

"This will not bring additional retail dollars to the city, but will in fact dilute the dollars already spent at the other three pharmacies."

The new Walgreens would compete with homegrown Holladay and Olympus pharmacies, as well as the national chain Rite-Aid - all within a two-block stretch.

The city's redevelopment plan specifies a quaint, walkable and unique marketplace, primarily aimed at reconfiguring the awkward intersection where 2300 East, Holladay Boulevard and Murray-Holladay Road converge.

In late 2005, Holladay's City Council tapped Cowboy Partners as lead developer for the multiphased redevelopment project instead of the Thomas Fox team, which already had invested substantial time and money in the area.

Thomas Fox owns the 1.5-acre parcel immediately west of the city-owned property nestled between Olympus and Holladay pharmacies - land once dominated by the recently-razed Video Vern's.

Calls from concerned residents to their development firm have tapered off, according to Brett Fox.

"At first I took a call or two a day; now it's down to about one a week," said Fox, noting that many had their site confused with the city's parcel on the corner of Murray-Holladay Road and Holladay Boulevard.

"We have several friends and relatives in Holladay, and we understand that residents want quality development," said Fox. "We're trying our best to comply with that."

Displaced diner? Sharon's Cafe - a cozy, community diner that leases space from Thomas Fox at 2263 Murray-Holladay Rd. - draws a lively breakfast and lunch crowd.

"It's Sharon's little chapel," grinned owner Sharon Ahearn - she and her husband got married in the cafe two years ago. "This place has a lot of meaning - it's a neighborhood cafe where everyone knows everybody."

Hulbert and Fox have agreed to buy out the final six years of Ahearn's lease and pay her relocation costs.

"When they bought the property I was told they would either rebuild or relocate my cafe," Ahearn said. "This was going to be a village and now it's a Walgreens - I don't know if I'm in the basement of Walgreens or what."

Reuel's Art and Frame - a 30-year staple in the heart of Holladay - also will need to be relocated if the Walgreens plan receives approval from the city's Planning Commission.

"We have such a following of clientele, we'd like to stay where we're at," said Art Wynhof, Reuel's president. "The local residents and customers are not ready for a Walgreens. They love the small-town appeal."

Wynhof would prefer to see lease space for small tenants on the village center property instead of big-pad retail - "to add more variety to the area."

Following rules: The Thomas Fox proposal is currently stalled at City Hall, pending modifications to bring it into compliance with village-center guidelines.

Friendly discussions continue between the city and Thomas Fox, said Paul Allred, Holladay's community-development director.

"Right now we're not ready to take them to the Planning Commission. The Design Review Board was very firm in how they view the development in terms of the village center guidelines," said Allred. "We need to find a comfort level; we need to hash things out.

Complicating the situation is that the city has not officially adopted the underlying zone for the village-center overlay district, so current development applications can revert to the existing commercial zone.

"Things are going slow with the city, but we're making progress. We don't fall under the village-center guidelines, but we're volunteering to adopt some of those," said Fox.


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