Wake County

Tractor sign would be saved under new Hillsborough Street development plan

The original storefront of the N.C. Equipment Co. building at 3101 West Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, seen here in 2015, features a tractor sign.
The original storefront of the N.C. Equipment Co. building at 3101 West Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, seen here in 2015, features a tractor sign. N&O file photo

A developer whose plan to build new student housing on Hillsborough Street was denied last year is trying again, and this time the company promises to preserve an old tractor sign.

Georgia-based Landmark Properties filed a rezoning request in June that asks permission to build a five-story apartment building at 3101 Hillsborough St., near the Stanhope Center and the campus of N.C. State University.

The Raleigh City Council last year denied a proposal from Landmark to build a four-story building on the block, which is bounded by Hillsborough, Concord Street, Stanhope Avenue and Rosemary Street.

A sticking point then was the fate of a large yellow tractor sign that at one time let visitors from the west know they had arrived in the City of Oaks. Landmark had expressed an unspecific plan to preserve the sign, but it wasn’t good enough for some historic preservation advocates. The two-story brick structure was built in 1936 by N.C. Equipment Co. and housed online publishing company Lulu until last year.

This time, Landmark says it will place the sign on the new building’s Hillsborough Street facade and light it.

“It’s much stronger language, and it’s not leaving it up to a city decision as to whether the sign is preserved,” said Adam Terando, a member of Raleigh’s planning commission. “When we say ‘city,’ we don’t necessarily mean a council or a legislative decision. A staff member could make the decision. This way, there’s no question.”

The planning commission has recommended the City Council approve the new plan. The council voted Tuesday to host a public hearing on the case at its Oct. 3 meeting.

Donna Bailey, co-chair of the Wade Citizens Advisory Council, said she felt the new proposal was much improved.

“When it went to council (last year), they rejected it because they felt pretty strongly that we had to salvage the sign as a link back to the building’s history,” she said.

The increase from four to five stories was proposed as a compromise to allow the developer to build the same square footage while providing more of a land buffer near single-family homes along Rosemary Street, Bailey said. Under the new plan, Landmark could build 233 apartments, up to half of which could be four-bedroom units.

Landmark’s 39 conditions, up from the 14 offered last year, deal with everything from the tractor sign to the hours of an on-site swimming pool to a hotline for neighbors to call with noise complaints. Any gym included in the development would have to offer memberships to the public.

“I think there’s a lot of concern about the overall Stanhope project and how that turned out,” Terando said of the nearby student-housing building. “The original master plan for that, I think, was a pretty different vision from where things ended up visually and aesthetically. (Landmark is) trying to be very specific and reassure people that they’ll mitigate what are perceived to be the downsides of student housing.”

Such guarantees have helped soothe a neighborhood already wary of a student-dominated development boom, Bailey said. The Wade CAC voted June 27 to approve the proposal by a vote of 18 to 5. Last year, it rejected Landmark’s first try 22 to 3.

“But I personally think they’re at a saturation point,” Bailey said of student housing. “It’s not healthy for any street or area to have too much of one culture. The businesses have a hard time surviving when the students aren’t there, and it creates a more diverse base of business if you have a more diverse clientele.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan