The city’s getting ready to say just how high downtown might go.
A broad redefinition of the city’s development rules would allow buildings in the city’s core to rise as high as 40 floors without special approval. The city’s tallest building today is the PNC Plaza at 33 stories and 538 feet. Some city council members, however, worry that the new standards would give away some of the city’s ability to push for community benefits, such as affordable housing.
The proposed change, meant to set uniform standards for downtown development, is up for Raleigh City Council discussion on Monday. The new map would allow the highest buildings along the length of downtown’s Fayetteville Street. They could be no higher than 500 feet or 40 stories, whichever is lower.
The next-highest area, with a 20-story limit, would run along the two blocks west of Fayetteville and along Hillsborough Street west to Boylan Avenue. An interactive map is available at maps.raleighnc.gov/remapping.
With the change, developers no longer would have to ask specific permission for each of their tall buildings. Currently, the Planning Commission has to individually approve any request to build over 80 feet, or about six floors, and the Raleigh City Council has the final say in appeals.
Under the new model, developers could build to the maximums “by right,” meaning they only have to meet the city’s design standards.
“The basic concept is trying to provide predictability to property owners,” said Steve Schuster, chairman of the planning commission.
He vividly remembers, he said, the long battle over the Wells Fargo building and the perceived threat of its shadow on the Capitol, he said.
On the other hand, the change could reduce the council’s influence over downtown projects. When a developer goes before the council, the elected officials have more leverage to request different designs, affordable housing or other changes.
“If we really care about ‘better,’ then we want to be able to negotiate what that is,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said. As an example of how cities can exchange height permissions for changes in projects, he pointed to the city of Austin’s “density bonuses.” That program requires developers to either pay fees or dedicate space for community benefits when they are granted greater development permissions.
In Raleigh, only projects that exceed the new limits would have to go before council for special permission.
City staff drew the new map based on Raleigh’s long-term plans and documents, which set goals and standards for each block. The limits are meant to “step down” from the city center, and to be lowest near downtown’s historic districts.
“We also looked at built context , and we synthesized all this together and came up with a proposal,” said planning director Ken Bowers.
The council will discuss the matter at a 4 p.m. work session on Monday.