Residents split on zoning issue

In busy Raleigh areas, homes built for families are being eyed as good business locations

Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2006 

Midday traffic zips past a house at Glenwood Avenue and Rembert Drive in North Raleigh. Some homeowners in the area want the city to rezone their property to allow business use. Others fear such use will hurt the neighborhood's character.

STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS LONG

The homes in the Brookhaven neighborhood were built for families.

But that's not who is interested in Dave Clemmer's house on Rembert Drive.

Instead, it is businesses that have come calling to buy the house, Clemmer said, in the decade he has lived there.

That's why Clemmer and his neighbors across the street have filed separate rezoning requests for their homes. Both want their properties on or near Glenwood Avenue rezoned so they can be used for offices.

The proposals have sparked a major protest in Brookhaven. Residents who oppose the rezonings packed a neighborhood meeting this month and expect to come out in force again for another meeting in March.

"The concern with the whole neighborhood is if you start chopping off every corner lot, then it will keep moving in down the street," said Grady Cooper, who moved into his home in the 1960s. "It will creep into the subdivision."

Brookhaven's fight could become familiar in other neighborhoods as developers seek land for new projects, and homeowners, fed up with living on busy thoroughfares, make their own plans.

Last year, nine cases were filed with Raleigh to rezone residential properties on the city's main roads for office or retail use.

Mitchell Silver, the city's planning director, does not consider it a major trend yet.

"We are seeing some individual cases on Six Forks [Road], in particular, because it's becoming a heavily traveled thoroughfare," he said. "I don't see an overwhelming trend. I think it's still piecemeal at this point."

In January, the City Council approved the rezoning of two residential lots at the corner of Six Forks and Shelley roads. Property owners said that the road is no longer suitable for homes and that almost every property along Six Forks has shops or offices on it anyway.

The rezoning will require the property owners to install a fence to protect the neighborhood behind them and to ensure that any business lighting is not pointed at residences.

Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan, its long-term guide for development, makes general recommendations for the city's corridors.

Some, such as Lead Mine and Millbrook roads, are expected to remain primarily residential. Others, such as portions of Falls of the Neuse and Creedmoor roads, can be redeveloped with offices as long as property owners protect the neighborhoods behind them with wide buffers, lower heights and buildings with a residential character. On roads such as parts of Six Forks or Falls of the Neuse, the plan allows for apartments or offices.

In Brookhaven, a special-use permit lets Jim Smith live in his home at Rembert Drive and Glenwood Avenue and operate a home business from it -- an insurance office. Before that, a photographer made the building his home and studio. Smith said appraisers have told him the property is best suited for commercial uses, not residential ones.

A request to get the land rezoned to allow just offices was pulled after Smith did not meet city-required deadlines. He is not sure when he will refile his request, though he is still interested in making a change.

Clemmer, whose Rembert Drive home is next to a Ragazzi's Italian restaurant and a few steps away from busy Glenwood Avenue, said he does not plan on moving soon. He is just making plans for his property once he does want to move. He envisions someone using his home for a law practice or dental office, not tearing it down for a new building.

"It's unfortunate," he said, "but I guess somebody's got to be the property next to the major highway, and that's why I'm seeking a tasteful option to do something with the property in the future."

Rezoning land to allow commercial uses could boost property values. Smith's 1.25 acres is valued at $125,000 and zoned for residential uses, according to Wake County property records. By contrast, the .75 acre that Ragazzi's occupies, zoned for retail use, is worth $313,632.

Other Brookhaven residents say little has changed since Clemmer and Smith bought their homes so close to Glenwood. The two knew what they were getting into when they bought their properties, critics say.

And, they add, if Clemmer's and Smith's properties are rezoned, then their neighbors could make the same argument -- that their houses should be turned into offices because they are next to some already.

Neighbors opposed to the rezoning also point to Brookhaven's neighborhood plan, which includes the properties proposed for rezoning and aims to protect the residential character of the subdivision.

Ed Boone, who has lived in Brookhaven for more than 40 years and raised his family there, said the proposal for change is jarring to a neighborhood full of longtime homeowners and young families.

"It would change the entire landscape of our community," he said. "It's the major entrance into this part of Brookhaven."

Staff writer Sarah Lindenfeld Hall can be reached at 829-8983 or slindenf@newsobserver.com.

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