“Restore the missing middle” (Nov. 10) makes excellent points about the appeal of neighborhoods that provide a mix of housing choices for our communities, including duplexes, multi-family apartment buildings and backyard cottages (also called ADUs) in addition to single-family houses. As a resident of Cameron Park, another one of Raleigh’s older neighborhoods that shares many of those qualities, I agree that Raleigh indeed needs more neighborhoods like ours.
But we need to be clear about why such neighborhoods are not expanding: It is not because of mixed-use zoning and nearby mid-rise apartment development, it is primarily due to exclusionary, single-family zoning. Older neighborhoods like ours were mostly developed before such restrictive zoning practices came into being.
In contrast, most of Raleigh’s residential neighborhoods are now zoned for single-family use, and some of the more affordable housing options mentioned, like multi-family apartments and backyard cottages, are no longer allowed to be built there. New apartment buildings around Cameron Park show that they are neither “anti-urban” nor “devastating” to neighborhoods. They have enhanced the area’s vibrancy by adding residents who could not otherwise afford to live here and by providing welcome new restaurants, cafes, shops and services within walking distance of our homes. Frank Harmon himself designed an excellent example on Hillsborough Street in collaboration with New City Design; an elegant modern five-story building that is a wonderful addition to the street and skyline, which has not detracted from nearby neighborhoods at all.
Zoning is also the reason that these projects include parking structures: Our UDO, with its minimum parking ratios, requires them. While other cities and towns are now reducing parking minimums or eliminating parking requirements altogether, in Raleigh we still cling to a car-centric lifestyle and planning model. The City, the development community and design professionals should all work toward the goal of restoring and expanding the “missing middle,” but if we do not identify the root cause of its demise and instead seek to place undue limits on more affordable housing types and transit-friendly development our efforts will be misdirected. As we plan for growth, we must consider all of the factors that help us to create more diverse and vibrant communities – including zoning restrictions – and be open to the possibilities that a more urban, less car-dependent future offers.
Practice Leader, Cities+Sites practice of Perkins+Will North Carolina