Jason Queen can see Moore Square and hear the rush of cars in downtown Raleigh as he stands in front of Stone’s Warehouse, which sits vacant at the corner of East Davie Street and Chavis Way.
Developers who want to repurpose the dilapidated former bus maintenance garage could certainly capitalize on its proximity to a growing city’s heart, he concedes.
But Queen would rather talk about the building’s importance to east Raleigh and how his team’s proposed redevelopment project would benefit its residents, some of whom have lived there for decades.
“We went door to door to ask folks what they wanted” on the site, Queen said. “Over and over they said the same thing: A grocery store.”
The Raleigh City Council members on Tuesday will allow the public to share its thoughts on the city’s plans to sell the Stone’s Warehouse property to Queen’s group, Transfer Company LLC, for $2.02 million.
Queen said Transfer plans to spend about $10 million to buy the 2.6 acre lot and transform the property into a neighborhood grocery store, a cafe, a community hall and small marketplace. Local businesses such as Videri Chocolate Factory, Locals Seafood, Jubala Coffee and Boulted Bread have expressed interest in occupying the space, he said.
The company’s plans also call for a new 13,000-square-foot building and 16 townhomes on the south side of the warehouse. The project would create about 120 jobs, Queen said.
“We’re reconnecting the city to the neighborhood,” he said.
The council tentatively approved the sale in January and is expected to complete the deal, but not before facing some criticism. At least one community leader is upset that the sale is forcing the Rex Senior Health Center, which has occupied part of the land since 1998, to move to a new space on Rock Quarry Road and that the city isn’t using the property for affordable housing.
Daniel Coleman, chairman of the South Central Citizens Advisory Committee, has said the city should use some of the site for affordable housing because it used federal funds to purchase part of the land in the 1990s. Between 1992 and 1994, the city used about $262,800 in federal funds to purchase two parcels on the property. The city then spent $854,800 of local money in 2003 to purchase the warehouse.
The city can welcome other types of development so long as money from the property sale goes toward community development programs, said Larry Jarvis, director of Raleigh’s housing and neighborhoods department.
He provided an email showing that a representative from the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development agrees with the city’s position. The city indeed plans to use some of the money for affordable housing programs and some to help Rex relocate, Jarvis said.
“You couldn’t ask for full market value, as the council wants, and do affordable housing,” he said.
Coleman says the city should have been more transparent about its intention to steer the property out of federal program guidelines before tentatively approving the sale. He claims his CAC wasn’t notified of the plan and that it should have been.
“We need to follow the rules,” Coleman said. “This is a nuanced issue that has great ramifications.”
Coleman has also questioned the sale because Steve Schuster, chairman of Raleigh’s planning commission, was hired by Transfer as an architect. The city believes there is no conflict of interest because city staff – not the planning commission – evaluated purchase offers and ultimately made a recommendation to the city council, Jarvis said. Furthermore, Schuster is not a member of Transfer and won’t own the property, he said.
Councilman Eugene Weeks, who represents Southeast Raleigh, said he has no problem with the sale so long as it checks out with HUD and developers encourage tenants to hire a diverse group of people from the community.
“I’ve told them ... don’t let the citizens down,” Weeks said.
Queen lives on Martin Street in Southeast Raleigh and says he’s not about to let his neighbors down.
“We’re bringing food back to a food desert and jobs back to Southeast Raleigh,” he said.