Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Statement from Councilor Thomas Crowder

Thank you Grow Raleigh Great for the invitation to offer my reasoning for voting against the referenced rezoning case at our June 17, 2014 council meeting.  I offer the following facts:

Comp Plan Guidance, or Policy:

The 2030 Comprehensive Plan and its Future Land Use Map are the foundation for our citizen’s vision for Raleigh’s future.  It is the framework, building on over eight years of work to create the city’s new zoning code, the Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO).  Thousands of citizen and staff hours and the expenditure of millions of dollars were spent to make this consensus “Policy” document.  It provides the legal framework required by state law to orderly zone and rezone properties to justify the city’s land use future.  Exceptions should ONLY be made when it is in thepublic’s best interest (need) to vary from this policy document.  There has been absolutely no articulation why this project is in the public’s interest above and beyond the numerous other projects previously approved, have been submitted for review, or are in the planning stages; all being in compliance with the Comp Plan.

Comprehensive Plan Consistency:

This case is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan regarding the height (story) limitations.  The plan calls for three-stories in Neighborhood Mixed-Use (NX) zoning districts.  Exceptions are made to increase the height to four and five-stories in Transit Overlay Districts (TOD’s), “Traditional Walking Streets” and locations on high frequency bus transit routes.  Higher than five stories is not noted nor recommended in the plan for this zoning district.  The plan also recognizes minimum “Stories” at “Edge” conditions (within 150-feet of low density residential (neighborhood) zoned districts, four-stories at the “Middle” and a maximum of five-stories at the “CORE” of transit oriented developments.  “Stories” AND a maximum height in feet are defined in the plan, IS NOT stories, OR height in feet.  This project is within 150-feet of a low density residential zoning district; however city staff has given greater weight to the transit core, an abnormality when interpreting codes.  Industry standards call for the most restrictive code or zoning language have standing. 

One of the major emphasis in the Comp Plan is the protection of our historic and established neighborhoods.  This project abuts a well established neighborhood, University Park, which is designated a National Registered Historic District that also includes portions of the Hillsborough Street commercial area.  The Comp Plan further describes the importance of transitions to these neighborhoods.  The introduction of a 40% increase in development intensity in addition to the maximum amount of density (stories) allowed in the code for NX districts is not a transition.  It is above and beyond the recommendations of a “Core” area, which in this case is NC State University.

Need for More Density on Hillsborough Street to Support Transit:

According to our Transit Department, Hillsborough Street is served by “high frequency” bus service as compared to the remainder of the city.  This is because density already exist on the south side of Hillsborough Street in the form of NC State University.  The university is a major regional employment center with over 34,000 students, 2,312 faculty members and 6,583 administrative and support staff.  The university is served by CAT, Wolfline bus and the TTA.  Its service area extends beyond the immediate neighborhood and even Raleigh.  NC State’s service area, like Downtown Raleigh is a large portion of Wake County. 

Recently Raleigh was fortunate to have the “national transit guru” Jarrett Walker give a talk on what is needed to support transit.  According to Walker in his book “Human Transit”  he notes on pages 124 and 125 the importance of employment centers.  Jarrett writes: “However, an effective service allocation policy will count both residential density and the density of activities that people need to travel to.  In fact, the concentration of jobs seems to affect transit ridership even more profoundly than the concentration of residents. In the North American and Australasian context, this makes sense.  Even in an era of car-oriented decentralization, high-rise downtowns have remained important destinations, and the concentrations of jobs that they represent have been too intense to serve by private car. As a result, we have many data points about the transit impact of high-rise downtown employment, and they point to a strong relationship between the overall transit ridership in a region and the size of its high-rise downtown employment center(s).  NC State is an extension of our central business district (Downtown) and alone is a major employment center.

Is More Student Housing Needed on Hillsborough Street:

The Comp Plan encourages student housing closer to the NC State Campus; however NC State is moderating undergraduate enrollment and is currently focusing on graduate student enrollment, particularly PhD candidates.  The university intends to enroll only 500 undergraduate students by 2025.  Even so, numerous student housing complexes (private dorms) are under construction or being proposed for Hillsborough Street and south of Western Boulevard.  NC State is planning additional student housing facilities on its Centennial Campus and the market is rapidly becoming saturated.

Furthermore, improvements to Hillsborough Street, lobbied by the Hillsborough Street Partnership (which evolved into the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation) set a vision for the street that would be a mix of uses and residents to create Hillsborough Street as a destination.  Encouraging a monoculture of student only projects will not provide the environment to cultivate retail diversity needed to make the street a destination for the adjacent neighborhoods or other citizens throughout the city.   This four bedroom, four bath rent by the room project will only attract student residents.  What happens to this complex once the student housing vacancies outnumber available students in the market?  It is highly doubtful that it will be attractive to young professionals or families since a mix of unit bedrooms do not exist.

The Developer Says He Needs Seven Stories to Make the Numbers Work:

While it is difficult to dispute this claim without reviewing the developer’s proforma, it is clear that over eight new projects have been approved, are under review, or are in the planning stages for Hillsborough Street.  All of these projects are either five, or four-stories.  Approval of Z-2-14 also represents a 40% increase in density that the other eight projects are able to function without.  Regardless, it is not the Council’s purview to approve a rezoning based on the financial viability of a project.  Zoning was created to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public, not to the financial benefit of a single property owner.

Approval Sets a Precedent:

Regardless of what some say, this project will set a precedent.  Already a case at the corner of Avent Ferry Road and Varsity Drive, Z-16-14 has been filed requesting seven stories (RX-7-UL) for a site designated NX on the Comp Plan Future Land Use Map.  Properties around the project are noted as “Medium Density Residential” on the Future Land Use Map with a three story height limit, five-stories maximum with certain quality mandates.  Will the Council be able to say no?  Regardless if a legal precedent has been set, property owners with similar projects will expect the same treatment as this petitioner.  Denial of similar cases places a burden of proof on the City Council.  If that proof is not reasonable, then such denials could place the city in the position of defending its actions in court.

I hope this explains the facts behind my decision to vote against Z-2-14.  First and foremost, a 40% increase in entitlements above and beyond  the maximum called for in the Comprehensive Plan has not been proven to be in the public’s best interest, nor to the benefit of the adjacent University Park Neighborhood.  For the above reasons I respectfully request my fellow councilors who voted for this project at our last meeting to reconsider and vote in the negative tomorrow at our July 01, 2014 council meeting.


Thomas G Crowder
Raleigh City Councilor | District D
Raleigh, North Carolina  27602
O   919.996.3050
H   919.852.1297

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