The city would take a more cautious approach to development along Hillsborough Street and in Cameron Village under the latest recommended version of a plan that would help shape growth to the west of downtown.
A committee of the Raleigh City Council is recommending a “moderate” growth plan that would more strictly limit the height of buildings in the area near N.C. State University. It’s a departure from previous versions of the plan that would allow for more dense redevelopment and taller buildings.
“I’ll be very honest with you,” said Stef Mendell, who was elected to the City Council in November. “I don’t like a lot of the development that I’ve seen in the Cameron Village area in the last few years. I’d like to see things that preserve the character of the neighborhood – buildings that aren’t as tall, buildings more set back from the street and more trees and vegetation.”
The recommendation last week from the growth and natural resources committee is an early sign that some of Raleigh’s elected leaders want to put developers on a shorter leash as the city continues to grow. A shift toward a slower-growth, less-dense approach could affect not only the Hillsborough Street area, but the rest of the city as well.
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Raleigh began asking residents three years ago to help plan the development and transportation future of Hillsborough Street and Cameron Village. City staff presented “moderate” and “high” growth scenarios to the public in the spring of 2015.
But after getting more public input, staff soon started to workshop a “compromise” plan they hoped would ease neighbors’ concerns about changes to the area and also satisfy those who want to see the area become more dense.
Last week’s committee recommendation scraps the compromise and reverts back to the early plan for moderate growth. Here are some highlights:
▪ The recommended plan would allow for five-story buildings in Cameron Village, which are allowed now. (The high-growth and compromise plans both would allow for an increase to seven stories.)
▪ The recommended plan would allow up to four stories on a stretch of Hillsborough Street that includes Bruegger’s Bagels and Insomnia Cookies. (The high-growth and compromise plans would allow up to seven stories.)
▪ Much of the area around Enterprise Street, between Hillsborough Street and Clark Avenue, would be zoned for up to three-story buildings under the recommended plan. (The high-growth plan called for a maximum of five stories, while the compromise plan split the area into pieces that would allow three, four or five stories.)
Hillsborough Street has been a major battleground for years in a broader debate about how to preserve a neighborhood’s character as redevelopment and new growth occur. Developers have built lots of apartments in the area to cater to college students.
Taller buildings in some parts of the corridor would be fine, said Donna Bailey, chairwoman of the Wade Citizens Advisory Council. But she prefers the latest version of the plan. That way, she said, developers who want to build higher could request a rezoning, which involves chances for the public to weigh in.
“If you say five stories from the beginning, you’ll get more student housing projects pouring in, which isn’t always in the community’s interests,” Bailey said.
She said many residents in the area prefer the latest recommendation of the moderate plan.
The City Council is expected to vote on the plan Feb. 6, when discussions could hint at deeper tensions among elected leaders.
Raleigh’s council was ruled for years by members who eagerly welcomed new development, including multi-story retail and apartment buildings beyond the core of downtown. Some of those members, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane, remain on the council, but the election last fall changed the balance of power.
Voters booted out Bonner Gaylord, who many saw as a friend to developers, and replaced him with Mendell, who ran on a slower-growth campaign. Meanwhile, longtime council member and growth advocate Mary-Ann Baldwin did not seek re-election.
By six weeks after the election in October, the council had balked at three ideas that many considered pro-growth: Airbnb, backyard accessory dwelling units and a proposal to convert two city-owned properties into a co-living development.
Deciding who would serve on the council’s growth committee became a point of controversy last month. Against the mayor’s recommendation, a majority of council members tapped Mendell to serve on the committee, shifting it toward a more cautious approach to growth.
After committees were set, council member Russ Stephenson said he thought the compromise plan for Hillsborough Street and Cameron Village was too friendly to developers. He prefers the moderate-growth plan.
“The new (compromise) plan that came forward was based on a very flawed process,” Stephenson said. “But it’s in the public interest to try to salvage something out of this process that’s a reflection of the community’s majority preference.”
Seth Hollar, co-founder of the pro-urban group Raleigh YIMBY and a member of the advisory council for the plan, said the latest recommendation is based on public input from two and a half years ago, before the compromise had been developed.
“The planners did their job, and the advisory council provided guidance about where people would want height and density,” Hollar said. “All of that work seems to be gone.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan