East Greensboro community discusses hopes for a new grocery storeBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / August 10, 2023
Community members representing eleven neighborhood associations gathered on a Zoom call on Monday evening (Aug.7) to discuss how to work with city and county leaders to bring a Lidl grocery story to Downtown Greensboro.
The site is 3.4 acres at the corner of East Gate City Boulevard and South Elm Street. The gravel lot that is there now, was once the site of a coal gasification plant, a dry cleaner and several other industrial businesses, which caused gases to leak into the soil and groundwater. Findings from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality said it’s not safe to build on the land as is and will take time and money to fix.
“There was a consideration that Lidl would develop here in our community. This whole issue of food deserts is an old issue now. Here we are again still addressing food deserts in overwhelmingly people of color communities,” said meeting organizer, Monica Walker.
A new grocery store for that area would impact at least 11 neighborhoods in its proximity, particularly residents of Northeast Greensboro who have been struggling with a food desert for more than two decades.
“This site has had a few challenges over the last few years of development. Lidl is still interested. Lidl has not walked away. The conversation now leads to what do we do to make this site usable,” said Sharon Hightower, District 1 City Council member.
According to Hightower, previous remediation of the land included the removal of 11 underground storage tanks, 11,144 tons of impacted soil, and 5,811 tons of coal debris. No more soil is required to be removed, but if it is removed, it must be dumped in a regulated landfill for testing and proper disposal.
“We’re going to make this a paradise for this community that deserves to have this food desert addressed. We want to make sure that it’s safe and we want to make sure that the investment is substantial and long-term for this community,” said Hightower.
Deena Hayes, one of the meeting’s organizers and Guilford County Schools Board of Education chairperson noted that residents should also consider a Plan B if Lidl decides to pull out of the deal.“What if Lidl does pull out? I think that’s something that city and county leaders should be thinking about. Because we need some new players at the table. We’ve had the same developers, the same powerbrokers over and over again, and I think it’s time to do something different,” said Hayes, adding, “There’s talent in this community. We don’t want to wait. We should be meeting with the community to see what the opportunities for the community are to develop that site.”
The question of who owns and has legal use of the gravel lot at this time is unclear. According to elected officials, the site is currently being used as overflow parking for the residences across the street owned by local developer Andy Zimmerman, and the businesses near it.
Community organizer April Parker reiterated the sentiment that the community wants new developers to be invited to the table.
“We are relentlessly demanding that these old inequities finally be addressed. We have recognized that the redevelopment has stalled and now it’s the community that gets to decide how we develop our community,” said Parker.
The plan is to gather community support with a petition, address the council at its meetings, and continue to campaign for Lidl.
Community members asked questions about getting an analysis of the levels of toxicity of any gasses, funds currently available for a clean-up, and how much it could cost taxpayers going forward.
Hightower said the voice of the people will be critical in this decision.
“Showing that this is one collective mission of the community is going to make the difference. I think it’s important that we show solidarity on how we want to live,” said Hightower.