Saturday, April 26, 2014

Z-2-14 and the True Spirit of Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan

The Raleigh Planning Commission acting on a recommendation by the Planning Department found that the Z-2-14 rezoning request is consistent with Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan.  A large part of the debate centered on the height of the proposal.  The number of stories requested was seven - two stories (40%) more than the five story maximum specified in the Comprehensive Plan for Neighborhood Mixed Use areas - precisely the type of area designated for the property to be rezoned.  In arguing to approve the rezoning, members of the Planning Commission felt that the proposal was consistent with the "spirit" of the Comprehensive Plan.

However, Z-2-14 fails the "spirit" test.  A central tenent of the Comprehensive Plan is to ensure that proposed development is consistent with the character of the surrounding area.  To help achieve this goal the Comprehensive Plan envisions transition areas that gradually increase in height from the lower surrounding structures.  These transition buffers are particularly important for Neighborhood Mixed Use areas situated next to existing structures of much lower height such as single family homes.

Neighborhood Mixed Use should have general and edge areas that serve as transitions to the tallest core areas. However, in many cases it is not physically possible to have all three. Here is a picture of the Neighborhood Mixed Use area along Hillsborough Street (in pink). Notice how thin it is.  There is physically no room for transition areas.

It is reasonable that if there is no room in a Neighborhood Mixed Use area, that transitional space and blending in with the existing structures should take precedence over maximum height. In the case of Z-2-14 the Planning Commission voted to accept a plan for a 7-story structure that is 40% bigger and more dense than the maximum 5-story structure that would sit in the core of a Neighborhood Mixed Use Area.

The Planning Commission focused too narrowly on the maximums allowed.  The spirit of the Comprehensive Plan isn't to maximize height and density.  Instead, the spirit of the Comprehensive Plan is to also promote development that preserves Raleigh's great neighborhoods.  In this regard the Planning Commission failed to honor the true spirit of the Comprehensive Plan.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome to Grow Raleigh Great!

Raleigh is one of the country's best cities. Those of us who live here appreciate Raleigh's great neighborhoods and quality of life.

However, Raleigh has reached a critical point in its growth.  Much of the land has been developed after decades of growth.  If you are in the construction business, then operating your business in Raleigh has been very good and lucrative.  But with the amount of available land running low, future construction in Raleigh rests on building up rather than out. Low rise buildings will be torn down and replaced with high rise towers.

We can grow Raleigh in this manner with an unconstrained, any-thing-goes approach or in a manner that preserves and protects Raleigh's neighborhoods and quality of life.  Choosing the latter Raleigh's citizens crafted a vision for the City and adopted it in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan was crafted by hundreds working over several years.  It is a vision for how the City should grow plus a set of policies and actions for getting us to the future.

More importantly, the Comprehensive Plan is mandated by North Carolina Law and serves as THE document for City government to make zoning and development decisions.  Before any rezoning can take place, the rezoning request must be evaluated for consistency with the Comprehensive Plan.

However, after rezoning happens, it is  Raleigh's Unified Development Ordinance - a set of laws - that governs the subsequent development of the land.  And herein lies the problem facing the citizens of  Raleigh.  The Uniform Development Ordinance (or UDO) went into effect in September 2013.  It is brand new and only now being tested by developers making their first rezoning requests since its adoption.

What  several neighborhoods have painfully discovered is that the UDO fails to implement the policies and actions of the Comprehensive Plan.  Remarkably, the UDO permits construction of buildings of unprecedented size, scale, and intensity directly in the middle of and immediately adjacent to residential areas and single family homes.

Two neighborhoods are facing proposed developments of superstores/strip malls with parking for 350 with entrances off now quiet neighborhood streets.  One neighborhood had to face a proposal for a 24/7 14-bay gas station.  Another in the historic area near NC State University is facing the prospect of a  seven story high rise.  In each case, developers have proposed these out of scale, high intensity projects directly adjacent to single family homes.

Neighbors are now acting.  A central goal is to convince City Council to immediately review and revise the UDO.  Through its Comprehensive Plan Raleigh has a great vision for the future that preserves and protects neighborhoods, its green spaces, its water supply, and its quality of life.  Unfortunately, without a UDO to implement that vision, Raleigh is left with wishful thinking rather than a real vision for the future.

We are optimistic that by acting together we can fix the UDO.  Standing together Raleigh can continue to grow into the future with greatness.  Please join us help Grow Raleigh Great!