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Awaiting floodplain permit, Publix edges closer to opening

Publix is filling mailboxes with slick fliers and popping up on smart phones with the promise that it’s “coming soon.”

In the mailings, smiling cashiers, welcoming butchers and produce managers and delectable-looking plates of seared steak and baked salmon tease shoppers about the offerings and service at the supermarket "where shopping is a pleasure." (“No matter where you are in the store, our associates are easy to find and ready to serve.”)
Muscling into a crowd of incumbent supermarkets and drug stores within a few hundred yards, the new grocery store on Greenville Highway is getting closer to completion by the day. Signs went up on Greenville Highway and White Street. Last week, crews moved the construction trailer behind the store, to clear ground for paving. Landscapers are unloading dozens of trees and bushes, so contractor Benning Construction can comply with the city’s stringent landscape requirements.
One of the biggest regulatory obstacles remaining is a permit required by state and federal agencies because of the floodplain conditions, notorious locally for pushing high water up over cars’ wheel wells.
A deluge of rain in May had people wondering whether Publix had made Mud Creek flooding worse, despite the fact that the contactor installed a huge underground stormwater storage system and other flood prevention measures. Halvorsen Development, the Florida-based contractor that manages construction of new stores for Publix, is still waiting for a flood control permit from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Publix can’t receive a certificate of occupancy until it gets the signoff from FEMA and the state Floodplain Mapping Program, said Susan Frady, director of the city’s Department of Development Assistance. The developer received a conditional letter of map amendment after it tried six times and failed to win a regulatory OK called a no-rise permit, which would have certified that the development on the 6-acre site in the Mud Creek floodplain would not make flood conditions worse than they currently are. The conditional letter allowed the supermarket company to start construction. To get a certificate of occupancy, Publix’s engineers have to convince regulators to drop "conditional."
“They have to get everything done with all the flood stuff,” Frady said. “That’s part of their main C.O.”
She had received correspondence recently from Jason Claudio-Diaz, the Kimley-Horn engineer working on the application, “so I know he’s working on it.”
“We don’t have that yet,” Halvorsen president Tom Vincent said Monday of the Letter of Map Amendment. “We’re getting there. I just know it’s on our checklist as a work in progress. There isn’t a specific opening date. In the next 30 days we’ll have a better idea” on an opening date.
City Manager John Connet said the last projection he heard on an opening date was late August. Kim Reynolds, a Charlotte-based Publix spokeswoman, confirmed an opening in the third quarter, which would be by Oct. 1.
“Ultimately they have to get (FEMA) to sign off” on the floodplain application, Connet said. “Plenty of people are speculating” that the fill on the site may have made flooding worse, he said. “The question I ask back is, Didn’t it flood this way before Publix was there? We have no indication it’s caused any increased flooding in that area.”
More than 2 feet of rain in a three-week stretch in May caused widespread flooding across the region, including high water that closed Greenville Highway directly in front of the supermarket site.
Since the May floods crews have completed a new concrete box culvert that drains water from the site via a channel called the Johnson ditch.
The contractor has to get a driveway permit from the NCDOT. And still to come are a center turn lane for shoppers northbound on Greenville Highway. The NCDOT is requiring the left-turn lane into the driveway entrance at the southern end of the parking lot. Plans submitted by Halvorsen’s traffic engineers also show a 130-foot southbound right turn lane on Greenville Highway across from Copper Penny Street and a new right turn lane from White Street into the store parking lot.