I kept hearing the words “Welcome, valued customer” ringing in my ears. The computer at Kroger’s self checkout says this every time I scan my Kroger loyalty card when buying groceries. I was sitting in a roomful of over a 100 other Kroger “valued customers” who had come to hear a proposed concept to install a “fuel center” across Nottingham Drive from the Kroger. The corporate spokesperson from Atlanta told us that so many customers had expressed a wish for a fuel center at this store that it was decided it might be a good idea and they have a property under contract they think would be just the ticket.
The problem is the proposed location is about as context-insensitive as it could possibly be. It is in a historic residential neighborhood. It is, in fact, the entrance to the North Highlands neighborhood. Building such a facility at this site would devastate the fragile residential nature of this struggling-to-rebound area. In addition to the land use problem, increased traffic, increased noise, increased pollution and an increased likelihood of crime would all, one would think, have stopped such an idea from advancing beyond a quick glance at the reality on the ground.
The engineer/designer of the fuel center, also from Atlanta, was not at the meeting to answer the simple question repeated over and over, in one manner or another, by the neighbors; “What were you thinking?” That is the problem when a facility like this is contemplated by those who are only looking at revenue projections and don’t have a handle on the reality of the local situation. Now, the store’s “valued customers” are being vexed and scared by the possibilities of falling property values, nightmare traffic problems and an unwelcome commercial intrusion into their charming residential neighborhood.
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The Kroger development representative said she was there to get feedback from the community. She got it, loud and clear. Not one person at the meeting, who were all neighbors and loyal Kroger customers, was in favor of this ill-conceived location. If the store really values its customers, as well as the community it serves, it will withdraw this site as a possibility for this fuel center and not pursue the Planning and Zoning’s rezoning process that will only prove to be upsetting and acrimonious to its valued customers and neighbors. Kroger has a reputation as a responsible civic player. It needs to listen to its customers, be a good neighbor and do the right thing.
-- James H. Webb