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Look back at 2014 in Raleigh and beyond: Publix, bluegrass, road races and more

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper play to a large crowd early afternoon on the City Plaza Stage Friday, October 3, 2014, during IBMA"s Wide Open Bluegrass.
Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper play to a large crowd early afternoon on the City Plaza Stage Friday, October 3, 2014, during IBMA"s Wide Open Bluegrass. jleonard@newsobserver.com

In the past year, a development plan for a Publix grocery store was met with anger from neighbors, voters approved a major spending plan for parks, and the World of Bluegrass festival set an attendance record in Raleigh.

All that and so much more happened in North Raleigh and beyond in 2014.

Here are some highlights of the year:

Publix plan angers neighbors

Neighbors haven't been shy about their disdain for a plan to build a Publix grocery store at the corner of Dunn and Falls of Neuse roads in North Raleigh.

They say the 49,000-square-foot store would be too big and bring too much traffic to their neighborhood.

The developer, Morgan Property Group, is now considering adding townhouses and a parking garage to the plan, which some say would add to traffic woes.

This fall, the planning commission asked the Raleigh City Council for a 60-day delay to consider potential changes to the plan.

Ultimately, the project's fate will rest with the council. Neighbors have filed three protest petitions that have been validated by city staff. That means the project will require a super majority for the council's approval; it would take only three votes in opposition to kill it.

World of Bluegrass fest sets new attendance mark

World of Bluegrass made a splash in Raleigh in October.

The overall five-day attendance for the 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass festival came to more than 180,000 people.

That's nearly 29 percent more than last year's total of 140,000, and the biggest crowd Raleigh has ever seen - bigger by far than the 138,000 drawn by the 2011 NHL All-Star Game and fan festival. While the hockey game's events generated more direct visitor spending ($11.4 million), this year's World of Bluegrass topped it in almost every other measure.

The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates $10.8 million in direct visitor spending, up 16 percent from $9.28 million in 2013.

Area hotel room nights were up 15 percent to 23,000.

Voters approve parks bonds

Raleigh voters gave the thumbs up in November for $92 million in bonds to spend on parks.

About half the money is expected to go toward upgrading and renovating existing facilities, including Chavis Park. A third is set for land purchases and new parks, and the remainder for greenway improvement and construction.

The bond package carries a potential property tax increase of 4 percent. That's 1.72 cents per $100 valuation, or about $51 annually on a $300,000 home, according to the city.

This was the sixth parks spending package approved since 1981.

Wake Forest voters also approved a $25 million bond referendum. The money is slated to fund streets, parks and recreation and greenway projects.

School board OKs assignment plan

The Wake County school board approved a student assignment plan in early December that could move more than 2,700 students next year.

More than half of the students are eligible for "grandfathering," or staying at their current schools if families provide transportation.

More assignment shifts will come in the next few years as the 155,000-student system deals with growth. Wake is also working to fill the 11 new schools that are scheduled to open in the next few years.

Some parents in western Wake County expressed major concerns about the plan, but Raleigh and Wake Forest parents weren't as vocal.

The board declined to make changes for some western Wake neighborhoods, but it removed 168 Enloe High School students from the plan. Those students would have moved to Southeast Raleigh High.

Food distribution center opens

The city opened an indoor center in June where charities can hand out food to the homeless downtown.

A months-long controversy ensued when charities said they were threatened with arrest for providing food to the homeless in Moore Square. The debate began when police suddenly began enforcing an obscure rule that requires $800 permits to distribute food in city parks.

City officials and nonprofit leaders had meetings that often become heated.

The Oak City Outreach Center is housed in a windowless warehouse at 215 1/2 S. Person St., behind the old Salvation Army building.

While the city provides off-duty police officers to keep the new center secure, Catholic Charities has a contract to manage the facility with a part-time coordinator and a long list of volunteers.

Raleigh lowers cap on road races

The Raleigh City Council voted 6-2 in September to lower the annual cap on road races.

Under the new policy, no more than 95 races can take place in a year. The previous cap was 100. The policy also bans existing races from closing streets in the same neighborhoods on back-to-back weekends, forcing some events to change dates or locations.

No additional races are allowed in neighborhoods around downtown and Hillsborough Street: Mordecai, Oakwood, Boylan Heights, University Park and Cameron Park.

Businesses and residents there have complained that frequent roadblocks make it hard to get around and hurt shops and restaurants.

But race directors have protested the new policy, saying it could cost them their longtime date and location - and potentially some fundraising revenue.

Former Councilman Thomas Crowder dies

Thomas Garrett Crowder, who resigned his 11-year post on the Raleigh City Council in the fall in the face of an advancing illness, died Oct. 14. He was 58.

Crowder was a lifelong resident of Raleigh and represented the southwest part of the city on the council.

Doctors diagnosed Crowder with testicular cancer in March 2013, according to his obituary. He announced in September that he'd "exhausted all options for a cure."

Crowder first was elected to the council in 2003, after two terms on the city's planning commission. An architect by trade, Crowder's interest in city politics was partially rooted in his love of art and design.

His wife, Kay Crowder, is finishing his term on the council.

State rejects Raleigh's Dorothea Dix offer

The state of North Carolina rejected the city of Raleigh's offer last spring to buy 308 acres of the former Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital campus for about $38 million.

State officials responded with a counteroffer.

The state does not want to sell the entire property, according to a letter from the governor's office. Instead, Gov. Pat McCrory proposed to keep 64 acres for use by the state Department of Health and Human Services and sell 244 acres to the city for about $52 million.

It would be too costly to move the DHHS offices currently on the campus, the letter says, and the state doesn't want to sell the land below "fair market value."

The fate of the Dix campus has been debated since 2002, when the state announced it would close the 150-year-old psychiatric hospital off Western Boulevard.

In 2007, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker offered $10.5 million for the property to turn it into a park, to a resounding scoff from some lawmakers.

Modernist house causes controversy

The modernist house in the Oakwood neighborhood of downtown Raleigh made national news as neighbors and the homeowner continued to disagree.

Across-the-street neighbor Gail Wiesner filed her appeal in October against the house, a move that sent the architectural battle to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Wiesner lost the last round of appeals when Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan ruled in favor of the house.

Bushfan's decision overturned the city's Board of Adjustment - she said it used an "incorrect standard of review" - and allowed homeowners Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon to resume construction. Bushfan also determined that Wiesner doesn't have legal standing to fight the house.

Wiesner argues that the modernist design doesn't fit historic rules for Oakwood and that Raleigh's historic commission made a mistake by approving it.

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