High-rent proposal east of downtown questioned

Staff WriterJanuary 8, 2008 

— A square sits empty four blocks east of Fayetteville Street downtown, wiped clean of all but one house.

Raleigh developer Gordon Smith wants to change that with a new apartment building that could grow six stories high and offer up to 200 units.

Right now, his 2-acre plot is allowed only 20 units.

But neighbors in the historic Southeast Raleigh neighborhood want one question answered: Who can afford it?

It's a familiar question on the streets east of downtown, where new homes are starting to sprout up at $600,000, and the residents in older, more modest homes fear being pushed out.

Just down the street from Smith's empty lot, the new and heavily subsidized Carlton Place apartments offers units at $331 a month for those earning just 30 percent of the median income.

Smith could not state exact rents for his proposed project, but said some would fall under $1,000 a month and others above.

Monday night, at a Central Citizens Advisory Council meeting, a resident asked whether Smith's housing would be affordable. The room let out a collective groan of "no."

"It's not saying we want to pooh-pooh anything," said Lonnette Williams, chairwoman of the Central CAC. "We live here. Downtown is a business venture. It's going to be a lifestyle for the rich and famous."

Raleigh's Planning Commission and its City Council must both sign off on the plans.

To get his project built, Smith needs the city to expand a special zone called the Downtown Overlay District, which allows extra-dense development.

Residents in the Central CAC have already opposed its expansion east, and Smith came to present his idea Monday night and ask for reconsideration.

Councilman James West said he hopes a compromise can be struck, but fears high-dollar investment could hurt a fragile community that has struggled to keep quality housing.

"You are dictating a tone for two Raleighs," said Octavia Rainey, chairwoman of the CAC that lies just to the north -- "one Raleigh for the haves, and one for the have-nots."

Smith said a public hearing on the project is set for April.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4818

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