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With height caps, Raleigh hopes to protect historic buildings

A panoramic photo of Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, shot Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. A proposal the City Council is expected to approve Monday would allow for 40 story buildings along much of Fayetteville, which consists mostly of buildings that are 10 stories or less. But the council recently moved to protect the street’s historic character by tentatively approving height caps for 19 of its oldest and most iconic buildings.
A panoramic photo of Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, shot Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. A proposal the City Council is expected to approve Monday would allow for 40 story buildings along much of Fayetteville, which consists mostly of buildings that are 10 stories or less. But the council recently moved to protect the street’s historic character by tentatively approving height caps for 19 of its oldest and most iconic buildings. cliddy@newsobserver.com

At four stories tall, the Briggs Hardware Building in Raleigh was considered a skyscraper when it was built on Fayetteville Street in 1874.

Several towers now overshadow it, including the 30-story Wells Fargo building and the 32-story PNC Plaza building, the city’s tallest.

Raleigh leaders plan to welcome more modern skyscrapers as part of the city’s remapping effort, a push to apply new development zones for about 35,000 properties across the city. A proposal the City Council is expected to approve Monday would allow for 40-story buildings along much of Fayetteville, particularly as the street nears City Plaza. Most of the buildings now on the street are 10 stories or fewer.

But, to protect Fayetteville Street’s historic character, the council is also expected to approve height restrictions for 19 of its oldest and most iconic buildings.

“These are buildings that have withstood the test of time, added real character and value to our downtown (and) are going to add some visual value to the street going forward, so we should protect them,” Councilman Wayne Maiorano said.

The council mostly targeted buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places and those listed as Raleigh Historic Landmarks. While distinctions can delay redevelopment and demolition, they don’t protect buildings entirely.

Nor do the council’s proposed height caps. A developer wishing to build taller structures than a property is zoned for can still do so with City Council permission.

Raleigh leaders hope the height restrictions deter such development.

Take the Briggs building, located at the center of Fayetteville Street. The council’s five-story limit makes it harder for a developer to buy the property, demolish it and rebuild something at a profit, Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “Ultimately, most would decide it just isn’t worth it.”

“The limits make redevelopment more costly,” said Baldwin, vice president of marketing and business development for Holt Brothers Inc., a construction and development company.

The City Council opted to follow Raleigh’s tiered zoning height structure, rather than customize each property. It limits building heights to five, seven, 12, 20 or 40 stories.

The zoning caps the four-story Post Office building, built in 1874, at five stories. The zoning for the 10-story Odd Fellows Building and Sir Walter Hotel buildings, each erected in 1924, caps each at 12 stories. The 12-story Capital Club building, built at Salisbury and Martin streets in 1930, is zoned for 12 stories at most.

Raleigh is home to many unique buildings that were built during Reconstruction after the Civil War and the 1920s, said Sarah David, chair of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.

“They have a human scale to them and a real quality in the masonry that’s really difficult, if not impossible, to replicate,” David said.

She praised the council for trying to protect its downtown character at a time when at least one developer earlier this year asked the council to allow for less restrictive zoning on 25 of the developer’s downtown properties.

Councilman Russ Stephenson thinks his peers should go even further and place stronger height restrictions on historic buildings in other areas of downtown.

Proposed zoning for the three-story Montague Building, which was built on Hargett Street in 1912 and is home to Caffe Luna, would allow seven-story buildings. So would zoning for the three-story Early Store Building, which was built at Wilmington and Hargett streets in 1870 and is home to Sitti Authentic Lebanese.

Council members said they focused on Fayetteville Street because the 20- and 40-story height allowances proposed for that area posed more of a redevelopment threat.

“It seems like we should give some other landmarks the same level of consideration,” Stephenson said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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