Raleigh risks letting developers run roughshod over residents

Downtown Raleigh as seen from the second story of a developing property at the corner of West and Peace streets
Downtown Raleigh as seen from the second story of a developing property at the corner of West and Peace streets hlynch@newsobserver.com

I am becoming increasingly confused and dismayed by the City of Raleigh’s rules and practices regarding zoning.

In one instance, we have a neighborhood (New Bern-Edenton) that has had a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District in place for years, but a majority of the City’s Planning Commission just voted to override it in favor of a developer who says he is trying to put in more affordable housing – in the $300,000 range – in the neighborhood. NCODs take a lot of time, effort, energy and money for residents to establish. What’s the point if they can be so easily overturned?

In another instance, we have a rezoning request for a “pregnancy crisis center” that wants its property rezoned so that it can locate itself next-door to an abortion provider. The rationale for this, when the pregnancy crisis center already has a nearby location, can only be to incite controversy.

Can we please focus on what neighborhood residents want and not what developers want?

In the case of the New Bern-Edenton NCOD, the developers say they want to make more affordable housing available to city residents. Well, part of the reason that more affordable housing in the $300,000 range isn’t more available in Raleigh is that developers are tearing down houses in that price range and replacing them with $1 million McMansions. There are numerous examples of that across the city, but I can cite several on my small street alone.

Two homes recently sold on my street, Oak Grove Circle, in that price range and are being renovated by the buyers. Two other homes also recently were sold. One was on a double lot and was replaced by two larger homes that fill up almost their entire lots and that sold for around $700,000 each. The other has been torn down and is slated to be replaced by a house that the developer will be selling for more than a million dollars. All of this happens despite the stated intent of the “Infill Compatibility” standards established by the city to preserve neighborhood character. The intent sounds great, but the reality isn’t panning out.

Less affordablity, more damage

Not only do tear-downs being replaced by McMansions make housing in my neighborhood less affordable, they damage the environment by contributing to more stormwater runoff due to the amount of the lot that is covered by the larger homes, driveways and accessory structures. The increased runoff on Oak Grove Circle has caused some neighbors to spend thousands of dollars to fix the resulting damage. And we also need to consider the clear-cutting that often takes place after a tear-down, or the amount of building material (entire houses) thrown into landfills.

The city then has to raise rates and taxes to cover the cost of better stormwater control. Why aren’t the developers on the hook for this instead of residents?

The developers will say we should be happy because their development increases the value of our property, but the increased property values also will increase property taxes. And while it’s great that our property values increase, it’s not so great because many of us are retired, living on fixed incomes, want to stay in place, but struggle with those increasing property taxes.

And in the case of the rezoning request for the “pregnancy crisis center” – why would that be allowed to go through if it makes residents feel unsafe because of the potential for more protesters invading their neighborhoods?

I know there are many fair-minded and thoughtful folks serving on our City Council. I only hope there are enough of them to stop developers from running roughshod over city residents.

Stefanie Mendell, a retired international communications executive, is a Raleigh resident