A city board has weighed in against a plan to lift the historic designation at the proposed site of a new downtown hotel.
The Raleigh Historic Development Commission recommended against removing property at the corner of South Wilmington and East Lenoir streets from the Prince Hall Historic district.
“To remove properties within a historic district piecemeal, effectively chipping away at the district, threatens the overall vitality of the district and the heritage it represents,” the commission said in a report on the rezoning.
Narsi Properties wants to build a 12-story hotel at the site near the under-construction Charter Square office building, where two houses and the headquarters for the General Baptist State Convention sit. The corner is a commercial area, with a McDonalds’s just around the corner.
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The properties are part of the four-block Prince Hall district, which the commission said is the only historic overlay district in the city that specifically represents Raleigh’s African-American hertitage. The district also has been identified as one of the first mixed-use districts in Raleigh.
The commission’s report is not the final world on the rezoning. The findings now go to the state historic preservation office, which will review the report within 30 days. The state will then send its review to the Raleigh Planning Commission, for when it considers the rezoning case. The commission’s recommendation will then go to the city council.
Should the city council say no to lifting the historic designation, it wouldn’t prohibit developers from building there. However, they would have to go through the “certificate of appropriateness” process, which governs building in historic districts. The process can include a yearlong delay of any demolition.
Tania Tully, a city planner, said that five new buildings have gone through the COA process in the last two years, a figure she expects to increase because of the number of vacant lots in the Prince Hall district and on North Blount Street.
The Ten at South Person, modern townhomes on the corner of South Person and East Lenior streets, had to go through the process.
Mack Paul, an attorney for the developers, said he understands the concerns of the commission about changes to a historic district. The developers intend to move the two historic houses on the site and house the General Baptist Convention headquarters in the new hotel.
But the area is a good place for a hotel given the way downtown has developed, Paul said.
“Our point has been downtown really needs more hotels,” he said.
The developers have the support of the Central Citizens Advisory Council, which voted 21 to 0 in favor of the project.
Lonnette Williams, chair of the CAC, said the hotel, which sits on the edge of the district, would be a good fit as a transition from the heights of downtown to the residential neighborhoods to the east.
“It makes sense for Wilmington Street to be commercial,” she said. “What else would you put there?”
Williams said the advisory council was opposed to the creation of the Prince Hall district when it went into effect several years ago because of concerns it would create obstacles for new development.
“We didn’t see it was valuable to the neighborhood because development is needed in the area,” she said.
The CAC did oppose a recent rezoning request that would permit a greater range of uses at a historic church, including an option to serve alcohol if the building is used as a restaurant.
Williams said the site is in the midst of Prince Hall’s residential neighborhood, which should prompt different considerations than a proposal for the district’s commercial edge.