In 2016, Raleigh is sure to continue to grow.
That means city leaders will weigh more development proposals – perhaps large-scale projects downtown and residential neighborhoods in North Raleigh.
Meanwhile, 2016 could be a big year for public transit in Wake County.
Here are some things to look for in the coming year:
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The Wake County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve a $2.3 billion transit plan next spring that could eventually change how Raleigh residents commute to work, visit downtown and make their way to neighboring Triangle cities and towns.
The plan includes commuter rails between Raleigh, Research Triangle Park and Durham, and also expanded bus service that could quadruple transit ridership in Wake County by 2027.
But expanded transit would come at a cost, and the final decision will likely come down to voters this year. Commissioners are expected to call for a November referendum on a half-cent local sales tax, which would help pay for the project.
Dorothea Dix property
It took years for the city to negotiate a deal with the state of North Carolina, but Raleigh finally purchased the 300-acre Dorothea Dix property for $52 million.
Now it’s time to make plans for the future of the area near downtown Raleigh that city leaders want to turn into an urban park. Will the sprawling green space off Western Boulevard see any development, and if so, how much?
Other questions also remain. The city hasn’t said how it plans to pay for the park or a deadline to fund it through a voter-approved bond.
A transit hub could help transform the warehouse district west of downtown.
Union Station, a hub on Martin Street for bus and rail service, isn’t set to be finished until 2017. But change is already coming to the area, where software company Citrix opened a new office in 2014.
The City Council has approved a 17-story tower at the site of the former Dillon Supply Co. warehouse between South West and South Harrington streets. More development could follow.
Raleigh leaders have made it clear they’re dedicated to the Union Station project, which is a joint federal, state and local government project.
The entire project, including rail upgrades outside the city, was expected to cost about $80 million, with about $44.7 million for Union Station. Because of the rising cost of steel and concrete, the final hub price jumped about $10 million to $54.7 million.
More downtown changes
The price of land in downtown Raleigh is high, but that hasn’t seemed to deter developers.
In November, the city sold the coveted 1.2-acre property at 301 Hillsborough St. to The Lundy Group, a Raleigh-based development firm, for $6.3 million.
The same month, The News & Observer agreed to sell its 3-acre headquarters at 215 S. McDowell St. to the Above the Fold development group for $20.2 million.
It will take a while for plans at the two sites to become reality, but it signals more changes ahead for downtown. The City Council has approved a 10-year vision for downtown that includes hotels, office space and more.
City Council majority
After a tough and expensive City Council election last fall, Mayor Nancy McFarlane solidified her ability to influence local politics. McFarlane and her husband, Ron, gave just over $20,000 to the campaigns of five candidates, who all won seats on the council.
Presumably, the win gives McFarlane a favorable majority on the council, opening the door for 2016 to become the year she proves she’s a political powerhouse in Raleigh.
More suburban growth
Raleigh continues to be an attractive place to newcomers, and that’s not expected to change in 2016.
With newly approved development maps that dictate what kind of growth is acceptable in certain parts of the city, Raleigh leaders will likely see plenty of development requests in North Raleigh and beyond.
Residents will surely keep an eye on the land at the corner of Falls of Neuse and Dunn roads, where they successfully fought a rezoning request for a grocery store in 2014.
Other neighborhoods will adapt to new infill development, which became a point of contention in several neighborhoods inside the Beltline, including Ridgewood and Mordecai.
Slower growth in Wake County schools
The Wake County school system is seeing slower growth as more families choose charter schools, private schools and home schools.
Wake has added 3,880 students over the past two years, but the growth has been 1,000 students fewer than projected for each of those years.
Meanwhile, preliminary numbers show that charter, private and home schools added more students over the past two years than the Wake school system did.
In the short term, it might mean some public schools will be less crowded and need fewer mobile units. Long term, the county might not need to build as many schools.