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.