Raleigh City Council had an eventful evening Tuesday, with a full agenda and a controversy at every turn. The Council’s chamber was so full of people starting out that Mayor Nancy McFarlane expedited a divisive Hillsborough Street zoning case to try to free up some space for the remainder of the evening.

Residents showed up to protest the Stone’s Warehouse sale, which would close the Rex Senior Health Center; city planners talked Hillsborough Street revitalization and residents will have to wait some more to see if the rezoning at the intersection of Varsity Drive and Avent Ferry Road will be allowed.

Raleigh City Council delays another zoning case

Hundreds of well-organized University Park residents, clad in red T-shirts, attended the evening meeting to show their opposition to a proposed student housing project between Montomgery and Furches Streets, near Meredith College, that they feel is neither complementary nor compatible with their neighborhood.

Though the Raleigh Planning Commission unanimously found the project to be consistent with Raleigh’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, neighbors say the five-story building would be too large in terms of mass and scale, would generate too much traffic and eat up parking space and would detract from the historic University Park neighborhood and the area’s natural amenities, cultural and community resources.

“We can embrace new development that is compatible,” said resident Jennifer Williams. “We would support neighbor friendly business on the street. We do now. We believe it is possible to create an inviting western gateway and respect and enhance this neighborhood that has been an integral part of Raleigh for 90 years.”

The project has been in the works for more than a year and nearly 500 residents have signed a petition opposing it. Council members Maiorano, Crowder and Stephenson said they agreed that the project is too big for the neighborhood. “Respectfully, I disagree with Planning staff and agree this project is fundamentally not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” Stephenson said.

Council deferred the case for two weeks to give the attorney for the developer Mack Paul and the neighbors time to negotiate before making a decision on the rezoning.

Southeast Raleigh residents speak out against removal of Rex Health Care Center

Last month, the City Council approved the sale of the vacant Stone’s Warehouse on Davie Street for redevelopment to Transfer Company LLC, a group with plans to transform the building into a cluster of restaurants and cafes, townhomes and possibly a grocery store.
Critics of the Transfer group’s plans are upset that it doesn’t provide any affordable housing and will force the Rex Senior Health Center, which leases a building on the site, to close.

“Our best interests are not served with the removal of Rex Healthcare,” said Danny Coleman, the chair of the South Central Citizen’s Advisory Committee. “(Rex) doesn’t make a profit but the community profits tremendously.”
Coleman was joined by about half a dozen other speakers who echoed the value of the center to senior and low-income residents in the community.

Council member Eugene Weeks said the Council would “assist with the Rex relocation efforts” and that it is actively looking for vacant city property inside Southeast Raleigh. “I am personally engaged in how this issue will be resolved,” Weeks said. “We’re keeping our eyes open to be sure that whatever we get won’t be far from where Rex is now.”

Hillsborough Street Revitalization, Phase II

City planning staff presented a vision for revitalizing the section of Hillsborough Street west of Rosemary and Shepherd Streets to Gardner Street, an addition to the earlier renewal efforts of the eastern end of Hillsborough. The Council approved the proposal.

The $12 million project would incorporate raised medians, marked bike lanes and wider sidewalks as well as three additional traffic roundabouts, to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists—Hillsborough Street is the most popular cycling corridor in the city. Other amenities will include brick pavers, underground power lines, LED street lights, public art, bike racks, trash cans and tree pits.

The project is about 65 percent complete and the next step will be to procure right of way easements from property owners, which should take around nine months. Construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2016.

But many Hillsborough Street business owners oppose the revitalization project on the grounds that it will constrict traffic flow, impair delivery trucks and kill business by doing away with turn lanes and making them inaccessible off of the roundabouts.

“This will be the nail in the coffin for businesses there that depend on Hillsborough Street as a destination location,” said Al Pleasants, owner of printing company Piedmont Litho, which has a location on Hillsborough.

Frank Liggett, a property owner who together with his business partner Chuck Grantham, have owned buildings that lease to businesses on Hillsborough for many years, says it is unfair to destroy businesses under Phase II for what city planners think will be “the greater good.”

“No one is listening to us and our concerns about flaws in the plan,” Liggett said. “This is the wrong plan for the wrong place for the wrong time.”

The other zoning case Raleigh City Council delayed

The developer of the parcel of land at the corner of Varsity Drive and Avent Ferry Road requested more time to negotiate with leaders at N.C. State University before making changes to a proposed rezoning case.

Neighbors in the Citizens Advisory Council West have opposed the project on the grounds that it will be too tall, too close to the street, incompatible with the rest of the area and will not provide enough parking for the students who would live there.