Raleigh council OKs 2 apartment complexes, debates traffic-calming measures

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 5, 2013 

— City council members approved two large apartment complexes on Tuesday with a warning: traffic around Cameron Village is nearing capacity and could hinder future developments there.

The first proposed apartment project – the Stanhope Center on Hillsborough Street near N.C. State University – passed with little discussion. Developer Val Valentine agreed last month to reduce the building to five stories, bowing to complaints that a seven-story structure would create a “Grand Canyon” effect on Hillsborough.

Stanhope Center will have up to 520 apartments, but the proposal drew few traffic concerns, since most residents will be N.C. State students commuting a few short blocks to the campus.

But traffic was the main worry for the other project the council approved Tuesday, the 200-unit 616 Oberlin complex near Cameron Village. It will replace a vacant one-story office building just north of the shopping center.

Neighborhood groups there spent months negotiating with developer Jim Anthony. They feared the project – coupled with two other large apartment buildings under construction a block away – would choke traffic on Oberlin Road and send more cars through residential streets. Anthony ultimately agreed to leave a lot fronting nearby Daniels Street undeveloped for now.

The council approved the plan 7-1, but Councilman Randy Stagner said the increased density must lead to better transit options in the area. Currently, Cameron Village is served by only two bus lines and has limited bike and pedestrian facilities. Without improvements, Stagner said, future developments might get halted.

“This has got to be addressed and addressed soon or we will stop with development,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin said she found Stagner’s comments troubling.

“It concerns me when I hear people on the council talk about stopping development,” Baldwin said. “The solution is not to stop development – the solution is to invest in our infrastructure.”

Baldwin said the city needs to consider a bond referendum to fund transit improvements. “I think that’s where we should be setting our priorities,” she said. “It’s obvious that Crabtree and Oberlin are going to be popular areas to develop.”

Councilman Thomas Crowder cast the lone vote against 616 Oberlin, objecting to a provision that allows access to the complex from a residential stretch of Daniels Street. And while he voted for the development, Councilman Russ Stephenson agreed.

“The solution is to reduce car trips with transit alternatives, not shift car trips onto neighborhood streets,” he said. “We really need to have the 21st-century transportation out there to support that type of growth.”

In other news:The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday approved one traffic-calming project on Glascock Street while altering a similar North Raleigh project that divided neighbors.

Glascock’s $440,000 proposal for a narrower road and more sidewalks had widespread support, but that wasn’t the case on Rainwater Road from Spring Forest Road to Hunting Ridge Road, which serves as a shortcut around Millbrook High School.

The initial petition for $125,000 in curb extensions, mini roundabouts and other efforts to slow traffic on the residential street drew the city-mandated signatures from 75 percent of residents and homeowners. But many said Tuesday that they misunderstood the petition, thinking they were merely expressing interest in traffic calming.

By Tuesday’s hearing, opponents of the plan slightly outnumbered supporters. Some said they’d changed their mind when the design details were released and drawn on the pavement for reference. The neighborhood was divided on the final plan, with opponents wearing red to the city council meeting and supporters sporting green “please slow down” badges.

After a heated 90-minute hearing, Mayor Nancy McFarlane proposed a temporary approach as a compromise solution. The council approved her idea after garnering support from both sides of the debate.

“I would like to see us consider some sort of measure – either stop signs or an installation of signs that say ‘you’re going too fast,’ and see where we are in six months to a year,” McFarlane said. “I think this might be a good interim measure.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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