Sixteen years ago, Bert Rosefield led a group of families in his North Hills neighborhood who worried about a plan to build apartments nearby.
A run-down shopping plaza had recently been renovated, making way for new restaurants and shops, and it became clear the once-suburban area was on the brink of big changes.
Once a mostly residential area in North Raleigh, North Hills is now an urban “midtown” hub that features retail stores, restaurants, luxury apartments and looming office towers.
Although they worried about density of development nearly two decades ago, Rosefield and some other residents say they like what has become of their neighborhood, and the conveniences it provides. They walk to Harris Teeter for groceries or to Starbucks for a cup of coffee.
But one issue lingers: traffic.
Neighbors have long complained that Six Forks Road, which carries most of the vehicles going to North Hills, should have more lanes north of the Beltline.
“It’s desperately needed for traffic flow,” said Rosefield, 72.
The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday is expected to consider a multimillion-dollar improvement plan for the Six Forks Road corridor, from Lynn Road in North Raleigh south to Interstate 440.
Consultants and Raleigh officials are also thinking of ways to improve the area for pedestrians and bicyclists, said Carter Pettibone, an urban planner for the city.
John Kane, who developed the modern-day North Hills, said his vision was always to create a mixed-use development – a place where people could live, shop, eat and work.
We have to get people out of their cars into public transit, or walk or bike.
Patrick Martin, president of the North Hills Neighborhood Association and chairman of the Midtown Citizens Advisory Council
But fast-growing Raleigh is still a city reliant on cars, and North Hills residents in particular have seen the effects.
“We have to get people out of their cars into public transit, or walk or bike,” said Patrick Martin, president of the North Hills Neighborhood Association and chairman of the Midtown Citizens Advisory Council.
The residential neighborhoods tucked into the shadows of North Hills were built in the 1950s and ’60s. Many of the houses – roughly 1,800 to 2,600 square feet – were home to people who worked at IBM and other companies in Research Triangle Park.
It was a quiet place to raise a family.
Rebecca Hodge’s parents bought a house in North Hills in 1964. The original North Hills Mall had opened nearby four years earlier. Still, the closest grocery store to North Hills at that time was at Cameron Village, Hodge said.
“Their hesitation in buying here was it was so remote,” said Hodge, 58.
Two decades later, in 1988, Hodge and her husband decided to buy a home in the neighborhood and raise a family there. Home prices were reasonable.
“Actually, it was a bargain,” Hodge said. “And you can’t say that anymore.”
Hodge was among those in the early 2000s who voiced concerns about a development plan. Kane had already bought and renovated North Hills Plaza and turned it into The Lassiter at North Hills, and next he wanted to build apartments that would raze a buffer of trees that separated the development from the residential neighborhood.
Hodge said she was most upset with how the city council at the time handled the issue. The old trees came down, and the developer planted new ones in their place.
Years later, those trees provide a separation – between conflict and compromise, between old and new.
“The tiny little trees that were planted are now tall and green, and that helps,” Hodge said.
In North Hills, what was old is becoming new again.
In the midst of the development boom, Martin said, some older residents decided to downsize and moved out of the neighborhood – whether out of practicality or to avoid the hustle and bustle.
But some original owners still live in their homes, Martin said.
North Hills’ changes have attracted young people who want to raise a family in a somewhat suburban environment that has the amenities of a city.
And as new development often does, North Hills’ changes have attracted young people who want to raise a family in a somewhat suburban environment that has the amenities of a city.
During last month’s ice storm, Martin said, kids were out playing in his neighborhood, and fathers shoveled each other’s driveways.
“Those of us who are retired love having young families (around),” he said. “It’s like breathing new life into everything.”
Rosefield, who led the neighborhood group years ago, and his wife, Donna, also enjoy the changing demographics.
“We’ve got great young families all around us,” he said.
Rising home values
And North Hills home values have shot up as has demand for its properties.
Wake County’s 2015 countywide reappraisal showed most residential values had remained stagnant since the 2008 reappraisal, but values in the North Hills area increased 13 percent.
Rod Forsythe, who lives in the neighborhood that now sits behind the 17-story Captrust tower and other new development, said he hopes to sell his property at some point. He grew up in the house, and he said the redevelopment has been “positive,” partly because his property value has gone up.
Forsythe, who retired over a year ago, said he receives letters in the mail from real-estate brokers and investors who are interested in the property. But he knows they don’t want the house. It’s the land they’re after.
Maybe some day residents who live along Dartmouth Street could join together and sell to a developer, Forsythe said. He stood outside his home on a recent afternoon, glancing over at the under-construction apartments a few houses away. He was about to walk over to the shopping plaza.
The change has been mostly for the positive, but the city is not keeping up with traffic.
Donna Rosefield, North Hills resident
“It’s not that I want to sell,” Forsythe said. “I just want to pick my time.”
Kane isn’t done building out North Hills. Six projects are under construction, he said, including two apartment buildings, a senior-living community, a hotel, a 12-story office tower and the Bank of America tower.
Kane said he hasn’t heard opposition from residents who live on the east side of Six Forks Road, where the newest growth is taking shape.
In general, Kane said, “I mainly hear thank-yous.”
But more projects bring more traffic. And it would be years before the Six Forks Road corridor plan is implemented.
In the meantime, residents are waiting. And they’re continuing to watch North Hills grow – with appreciation, but also with concern.
“The change has been mostly for the positive,” Donna Rosefield said, “but the city is not keeping up with traffic.”
News researcher David Raynor contributed.
The Six Forks Road corridor plan
▪ Consultants suggest creating a total of six lanes throughout the 2.2-mile stretch between the Beltline and Lynn Road.
▪ A median would be installed, and drivers would have to make U-turns instead of turning left.
▪ The speed limit through the entire corridor would switch to 35 mph. It’s already 35 mph near North Hills now, but it increases to 45 mph north of Millbrook Road.
▪ Bike lanes wouldn’t be part of the road. Instead, 5-foot lanes dedicated to bicyclists would be separated from traffic by a curb and grass buffer.
▪ New sidewalks would be installed, along with upgrades to crosswalks.
▪ The medians would provide “safe zones” for pedestrians to cross three lanes of traffic at a time.