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Bye bye BI-LO, adios Los Amigos: Tenants seek out new spaces ahead of plaza redevelopment

Big changes are in store for the BI-LO plaza on Russ Ave. Haywood GIS photo Big changes are in store for the BI-LO plaza on Russ Ave. Haywood GIS photo

A major project slated for a prime parcel in Waynesville’s burgeoning Russ Avenue commercial district could soon transform a local shopping plaza into dozens of residences. 

“There’s not much to talk about yet, we’re really just in the first or second inning,” said Ron Linsky of Florida-based RFLP Group, the owner of the 8.79-acre, $3.59 million parcel that currently serves as home to BI-LO, Los Amigos Mexican restaurant and Kim’s Pharmacy. Former tenant Silver Treasures already relocated to a shopping plaza on Main Street. 

Pharmacist Kim Ferguson said she was notified by Linsky a while back that “they’re tearing the building down and putting in apartments.” 

Her lease expired in February, and she’ll be out just as soon as her new location is ready. She purchased the building on Dellwood City Road that was formerly home to improperly-located gaming operation Nudge City. 

Likewise for Hilda Rios, whose family owns Los Amigos; she said the restaurant will remain open for now but eventually move to a new location behind the Kornerstone Kafé on North Main Street sometime this spring; Linksy said tenants will all be gone by Dec. 31, 2019.

“That shopping center has housed some really good community businesses. I think by giving sort of notice, it’s given those businesses a chance to relocate,” said Waynesville Development Services Director Elizabeth Teague. “We’ve been working with them. They’ll both end up in really good spots. It’s nice to see something like that happen, where businesses are displaced but in a way that they have an opportunity to find other locations and we’re not going to lose those businesses, and that was a concern.”

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Nationally, BI-LO has had trouble keeping up with corporate behemoth Walmart, evolving Aldi and niche grocers like Fresh Market. Locally, the addition of Haywood County’s first Publix just down the road and just across the street from a high-volume Ingles location complicates the situation for BI-LO.

The parent company of BI-LO, Southeastern Grocers, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past May after closing nearly 100 Winn-Dixie, Harvey’s and BI-LO stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas. 

BI-LO would likely not re-enter the Haywood County market after the Russ Avenue location is razed, according to Linsky; calls to Southeastern Grocers seeking confirmation were not returned. 

Linsky’s RFLP Group is a family real estate business based in Tampa, but the Linskys have a long history in the area.

“Our grandfather spent time during World War II in Swannanoa and fell in love with the Smoky Mountains,” Linsky said. “Clark and Leatherwood built our home in Balsam Mountain Preserve in 2007, and four generations of our family spend time at the house. We all have a special place in our hearts for Western North Carolina, the land and the people.”

Linsky couldn’t confirm details of the proposed development, and said he’d like to develop residences, but also noted that interest rates are rising, labor costs are going up, and tariffs have been implemented that might complicate things. He does, however, want to do what’s best for the community and best for the parcel. 

But if that best use is indeed residential development — sorely needed across the region — what might it look like?

“It’s part of our regional center district zoning for Russ Avenue, which is our most flexible district,” said Teague. “It allows residential and multi-family. It’s nice to have higher density residential in town. High density, close in [residential development] is really what we’re striving for in our land use plan. Walkability is a big issue for us. What we want to look at is, would they possibly be able to serve a range of housing price points?”

Teague said that since the property is already zoned for residential, no text amendments or rezoning would need to occur for the development to move forward. 

“What they would need to go through is a process for a master plan,” she said. “If that site redevelops, there are a couple of interesting things, opportunities we’ll try to work with them on.”

One of them is access to the town’s recreational offerings.

“The connection with the park makes it really neat,” she said. “Our greenway master plan goes through there, and Haywood Waterways had worked with them on a storm water plan, so with full redevelopment they would have to come into compliance with storm water, walkability, parking.”

Currently, runoff from the immense parking lot is an issue for Richland Creek, which borders the parcel. 

“We’d really look to them through the permitting process to correct it in a way that improves and protects Richland Creek, but also creates a nice space for them,” she said. “The fact that it’s residential, I think it’d be desirable to have that greenway connection and the river park right along there.”

The parcel’s redevelopment could also serve as a critical linkage for the greenway in a problematic area. 

“We’re working with DOT on Russ Avenue to bring a greenway cross section up and over the bridge right there, and we’ve been in touch with Wells Fargo to see if we can work with them,” she said. “If we cross over Russ Avenue, the trail would pick up and go from there.”

The town’s dimensional requirement standards table lists no maximum density for residential development in the Russ Avenue Regional Center district, but it does limit buildings to four or five stories. 

“There’s actually no density maximum, however we do require some open space,” Teague said. Along with setbacks, riparian buffers, landscaping and parking requirements, the parcel will look far different once it’s redeveloped, whatever it might ultimately become. 

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