New apartment construction brings change, debate to Raleigh’s Cameron Village

ccampbell@newsobserver.comSeptember 22, 2013 

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A bicyclist quickly crosses Oberlin Road and Clark Street Wednesday Sept.18, 2013. Some neighbors are upset that the projects have created a cavernous look which some say is not visually pleasing. Almost 800 new apartments will comprise of the three projects now under construction.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— As two apartment buildings rise along Oberlin Road, neighboring Cameron Village is in the midst of its biggest transformation since it opened in 1949 as the first shopping center between Washington and Atlanta.

Crescent Cameron Village and 401 Oberlin are expected to open this winter, bringing 532 new apartments and more than 20,000 square feet of new shops and restaurants. The influx of new residents will bring more pedestrian activity and more nightlife to the upscale shopping district.

But as construction nears the finish line, the most striking visible change involves height. At five and six floors tall, Crescent and 401 Oberlin loom over the intersection of Oberlin and Clark Avenue – a contrast to the two-story buildings they replaced. Some neighbors are complaining the tall apartments create a canyon effect, and others just don’t like the look.

Cameron Village Neighborhood Association past president Banks Talley called for a design discussion in a recent email to the group.

“The mass of the Crescent and 401 projects dwarfs the streetscape,” Talley wrote. “The Crescent project is aesthetically hideous so far. The brick is ugly and the paint colors they are playing around with on the windows look bad to me. ... It is not close to the green space we had to look at before.”

Others, however, like the new buildings and what they mean for the area.

“It’s an opportunity to create a Main Street sort of feel,” said Seth Hollar, who lives nearby in University Park. “The people that are going to come and live in that area are people who enjoy walking around. Those are the type of people we want to bring in.”

The newcomers will have new places to shop as well. Crescent’s first-floor storefronts will include a steak and seafood restaurant called Faire, as well as Brixx Pizza, Benelux Coffee and Flywheel Sports.

The growth is good news for existing businesses, said John Pharr, who manages Cameron Village for Regency Centers. “We forecast the business at the retailers will increase by a factor of 25 percent,” he said, adding that the influx of young professionals is already prompting some shops and restaurants to stay open later.

No renters need apply – now

Neighborhood groups, however, aren’t sure how they’ll involve the new renters in one of Raleigh’s most politically active communities. The Cameron Village Neighborhood Association met last week to decide whether it will allow renters to become voting members. The group has historically only allowed homeowners from the 116 houses built around the same time as the shopping center.

The association decided to take a smaller step for now, allowing owner-occupants of townhomes and condos – but not renters – to vote. “We are taking steps slowly to broaden our membership,” said Chris Babson.

But Will Allen, who chairs the Hillsborough Citizens Advisory Council, blasted the move in an email. “Regardless of renters’ view of the future, it is patently unfair to disenfranchise thousands of residents just because they rent rather than own,” he said.

Babson said renters are always welcome to express their opinions at meetings, and the membership issue is an ongoing discussion.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t move forward with broadening that again,” he said.

‘Yes In My Backyard’

Some residents are seeking alternatives to the traditional neighborhood groups, which have opposed some of the high-density developments based on traffic fears. Hollar is among several Cameron Village neighbors who formed Raleigh YIMBY last month. The acronym stands for “Yes In My Backyard.”

For supporters of high-density, pedestrian friendly urban development, Hollar said, “there was no unified voice for them to express their opinions.”

The YIMBYs will meet again Oct. 3, and one item on their agenda is the next big development debate for the area: the Cameron Village Vicinity Plan process. City Councilman Russ Stephenson pushed for the new document – a blueprint for future growth in light of the current development pressures.

Neighborhood leader Donna Bailey said she hopes the plan will cut down on contentious debates for each new development. “Hopefully, it’s going to be something that’s going to have a lot of neighborhood input,” she said.

Traffic is likely to be a major concern at the public hearings for the plan. Some fear the influx of new residents could clog Oberlin Road, and city officials have already scrapped a proposal to narrow the street and add roundabouts. Retailers and residents agree that better bus service should be part of the solution.

The new apartment dwellers, seeking an easy route downtown and elsewhere, are likely to join that push.

“Cameron Village is such a destination point that hopefully this will spur some increased transit,” Bailey said.

Better transit, in turn, is expected to bring even more growth – furthering developer Willie York’s vision of 64 years ago: to build a mixed-use “town within a town” in the heart of Raleigh.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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