In many ways, 2015 was a year that looked ahead to Raleigh’s future.
City leaders mapped out a plan to guide downtown’s growth and worked through bureaucratic details that will help shape new development in other parts of the city.
Meanwhile, Raleigh and state leaders struck a deal for the Dorothea Dix property, which could become an urban park.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories in Raleigh over the past year, in no particular order:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Raleigh leaders approved a sweeping plan that will guide the future of downtown for the next decade.
Downtown used to be a place where nothing happened after 5 p.m., but restaurants, bars and retail shops – not to mention plenty of new apartments – have helped transform the area into a desirable place to hang out on nights and weekends.
So what’s next for downtown? The 10-year plan, which was approved over the summer, encourages more retail and less nightlife. It also calls for the creation of more green space and to make roads more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.
Throughout it all, the plan says, the city should preserve downtown’s historic character.
The plan breaks downtown into five areas: the southern “gateway center” near the Raleigh Convention Center; the northern area; Nash Square and Union Station; Moore Square and Glenwood Green. The idea is to connect the areas.
The city wrapped up a seven-year effort to bring its development codes in line with newer goals for future development.
Why does it matter? Because zones dictate which kinds of growth are allowed in certain areas, including apartments, retail centers and office space.
The remapping process was wrought with controversy, sparking fears of skyrocketing property taxes and unwanted dense development near neighborhoods.
The City Council unanimously approved the remapping in November, paving the way for dense development in key areas like downtown and well-traveled corridors.
Raleigh created a comprehensive plan for affordable housing at a time when rent prices, particularly near downtown, are increasing.
The plan focuses on building affordable housing units near future transit hubs. This year, the city began working on a plan for Washington Terrace and East College Park, low-income neighborhoods east of downtown near St. Augustine’s University.
The City Council agreed to set aside $6.8 million to revamp Washington Terrace, which is owned by DHIC. The nonprofit group will work to secure other funding sources for the project.
Meanwhile, some neighbors voiced concerns about a plan to revitalize East College Park. The city owns property in the area and plans to turn some of the homes into affordable housing for first-time home buyers.
The comprehensive plan will also help the city establish a permanent fund for affordable housing and introduces plans to encourage private affordable development.
Many residents were adamant in 2014 that they did not want a Publix grocery store to open at the corner of Falls of Neuse and Dunn roads in North Raleigh. They worried about traffic and dense development.
The developer, Morgan Property Group, withdrew the rezoning request for the property this year, putting an end to the long debate about protecting neighborhoods from unwanted growth.
Community activist David Cox led the charge, rallying neighbors to speak out against the plan. This fall, his pro-neighborhood stance won him a seat on the Raleigh City Council.
New rules approved by the City Council aimed to reduce downtown noise by limiting outdoor dining (and drinking) on nights and weekends.
Bar owners were mad with the change, saying it would hurt business.
The issue became a hot topic in the Raleigh City Council election this fall when local businessman Dean Debnam published newspaper ads in the North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News that depicted downtown as “Drunktown.”
The ad, which featured a presumably drunken man leaning against a lamp post, targeted councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin and candidates Matt Tomasulo and Ashton Smith. Baldwin was re-elected to her at-large council seat, but Smith and Tomasulo fell short.
After the election, Debnam said the ad was successful in influencing voters.
Dorothea Dix deal
After years of negotiations, the state of North Carolina sold the 308-acre Dorothea Dix property to Raleigh for $52 million.
The city hopes to transform the area into a park, but the deal also allows the state to keep office space there. The Dix property, off of Western Boulevard, housed a psychiatric hospital until 2012.
Now the city has to decide what will become of the sprawling area that features idyllic views of downtown. Mayor Nancy McFarlane has said she looks forward to gathering public input.
School assignment plan
North Raleigh parents were particularly vocal in speaking out against the 2016-17 Wake County student assignment plan.
Parents with children at Leesville Road Elementary School did not want to be assigned to the new Pleasant Grove Elementary near Durham. Some parents who live in the Brier Creek area of northwest Raleigh did not want to be assigned to the new Pine Hollow Middle.
While the final plan doesn’t accommodate everyone’s wishes, the school board scrapped a plan that would have assigned some students who live in Wake Forest from Heritage High School to Rolesville High.