Late tweaks add conflict to city plan

Long-term view is up for a vote this week, but changes draw ire.

Staff WriterSeptember 7, 2009 

  • What: Raleigh City Council to continue review of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan

    Where: Raleigh City Hall, 222 W. Hargett St.

    When: Tuesday at noon

— On Tuesday, the City Council is likely to adopt a new long-term planning document filled with policies that move Raleigh away from urban sprawl.

Much of the document, called the Comprehensive Plan, remains unchanged from the 380-page draft city planners unveiled 10 months ago. But a flurry of late changes put forward by Councilman Thomas Crowder in his West Raleigh district have drawn the ire of some fellow councilors.

The most controversial was the council's 5-3 vote last week to declare a five-block area just west of downtown as a "special study area." The designation means the Comprehensive Plan will say nothing about what the land, located on either side of West Morgan Street, should become until the city first completes a study.

Councilors Philip Isley, Mary-Ann Baldwin and James West opposed the special study area. Isley said the area, which is near a site being considered as a future transit center, is exactly the type of area where the city needs to be clear about what it wants.

"I would hope to God that in this economy we are not going to be imposing moratoriums around transit stops," Isley said. "I think it's hypocritical to be an advocate of transit and to not allow density to be around transit stops."

Crowder says he supports redeveloping the area and increasing the density. But he said a delay is necessary so that the community can develop a more detailed plan for the area.

"The community is obviously concerned about how do you transition to those neighborhoods, especially the Pullen Park neighborhood," Crowder said. "The best way to do that is to get all the stakeholders at the table."

The debate over transition areas like West Morgan is likely a precursor to the types of development fights that will take place once the Comprehensive Plan is adopted.

The plan maps out how Raleigh should grow over the next 20 years.

It calls for Raleigh to funnel 60 percent of its growth over the next two decades -- about 72,000 residential units -- to downtown, seven urban centers and major road corridors.

Many of those areas targeted for higher intensity development are located near existing single-family neighborhoods. Community leaders in West Raleigh supported the special study area because they are concerned about neighborhoods being swallowed up by buildings being built on the edge of downtown.

Much of the recent haggling over the Comprehensive Plan has focused not on policy recommendations but on its land-use map, which designates the type of development the city expects to see on every piece of property in Raleigh. The land-use recommendations will provide guidance in future rezoning cases.

Crowder, an architect, has proposed about 50 revisions to the land-use map in his district. Most of those changes, he said, were the result of residents in his district studying the map and raising concerns.

Crowder has also requested a second special study area to be declared in West Raleigh where Hillsborough Street and Western Boulevard come together.

The City Attorney's office has raised questions about how rezoning requests in the special study areas would be handled in the interim, before a study is complete. One option is to refer to the 1989 Comprehensive Plan.

Councilor Baldwin said delaying the decision on how to handle these areas prolongs the anxiety for residents and adds to an already lengthy list of areas slated for study by the Planning Department.

"We keep talking about wanting to build walkable communities near transit, and then every time a developer comes through with a plan there's a major battle," Baldwin said. "Instead of solving the problem and looking for a compromise, we've just extended the agony."

david.bracken@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4548

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