The Dix Edge Area Study, a development plan that has culminated in three years of work, is back in committee.
The study, which started in 2020 and ended in 2022, involved consultants and city experts looking at the area around Dorothea Dix Park, which is facing rapid development, and proposing guidelines to shape the future construction of affordable housing, roads, and greenways, among other things.
As the city grows and Dix Park renovations begin, nearby residents have faced higher rents and more traffic in what was once an affordable place to live. The opportunity to build so close to downtown Raleigh has drawn interest from prominent development groups including Kane Realty and Merge Capital, in some cases displacing residents who have lived there for years.
Last spring, a dozen or so renters were forced to find a new place to live after a large development company bought their homes with plans to build two 20-story apartment buildings on the land.
Today, three major construction projects are slated for the area around Dix Park: Downtown South, a mix of office, retail, and residential space on 140 acres, with some buildings up to 40 stories tall; Park City South, another mixed-use development up to 20 stories tall; and South Park, a commercial and office complex only a few stories tall.
What is the plan?
The Dix Edge Area Study proposes a set of amendments to Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan, a citywide map for growth that guides the city council’s decisions on rezoning cases and other important issues.
The city council isn’t bound by the guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan, nor is it bound by recommendations from the Planning Commission, but the proposed changes provide the council with a solid foundation for accepting or rejecting new development plans around Dix Park.
“It’s a community-driven plan for growth in that area,” says council member Jonathan Melton. “There’s a lot of changes happening in that part of the city, and we can either let those changes happen haphazardly or we can have a road map for how they ought to happen.”
In addition to modifications to the city’s land use map (that scale up residential development), the proposal includes some environmental protections (like directives for “green” stormwater management) and measures to preserve and increase affordable housing (such as education about home rehabilitation funding and development of affordable housing on city-owned land).
The proposal also includes plans to connect streets and greenways, add bike lanes and sidewalks, and add lanes and street trees to roads.
Why is it stalled?
But all of those changes are currently stalled with the plan back in committee. During the council’s meeting last month, members voted 7–1 to send the plan back to the Growth and Natural Resources Committee, headed by District D council member Jane Harrison, for more discussion.
Council members Harrison, Megan Patton, Mary Black, Christina Jones, and Stormie Forte all voted for the motion before Jonathan Melton and Corey Branch joined them when it became clear they had a majority.
Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin voted against sending the plan to committee, saying at the meeting that she’d rather discuss the plan with all eight council members present rather than in the four-person committee (which, in addition to Harrison, includes Patton, Black, and Branch).
The heart of the argument was over whether new council members, who have greater influence in the Growth and Natural Resources Committee, should have control over how and when the plan moves forward, or whether it should stay with the city council as a whole for discussion and debate.
Discussion in committee gives three of the four new council members an opportunity to take a “deep dive” into the plan, addressing their concerns about not having enough time to consider it before voting, Black pointed out.
But, Baldwin rebutted, there’s value in having reelected council members at the meeting “for perspective,” she said. In a pointed comment about the new balance of power on the city council, Baldwin told Black that “you’ve said a lot of times you want to learn. Well, part of how you learn is through our joint experiences.”
Meanwhile, Melton’s main objection to sending the plan back to the committee, or, as was also proposed, a work session, is the delay it would create.
“We need to give everyone an opportunity to feel heard on this piece and for the new council members also to absorb some of the work [we’re caught up on] … but I don’t want to push it two months. Every day we don’t act on this, we’re losing opportunities,” Melton said at the meeting. “If we need to have a discussion, we can have a discussion now or at the table in two weeks … but at some point, we have to do something.”
In an interview with INDY Week, Melton adds that although he is sensitive to the experience of being a new council member, “we did get the plan at least several weeks ago.”
“I was trying to find a way to strike a balance between letting [new council members] have time to absorb it, addressing some of the tangible concerns we heard at the [public] hearing, but then advancing the majority of the plan that I know the community has been waiting on for several years,” Melton says.
One of the biggest issues raised at the public hearing was over the reclassification of an area along Fayetteville Street, currently home to single-family houses, to an “urban corridor,” which would allow greater density and buildings up to eight stories (or 12 stories if they include public benefits).
“Creating an urban corridor on Fayetteville Street is not only inconsistent with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, [but] it would be the most dramatic zoning change proposed in the entire Dix Edge study,” said Christopher Busbin, who spoke on behalf of the nearby Caraleigh neighborhood.
However, the “place type” change also fits with the city’s plan to develop an affordable housing complex on the site, a city-initiated zoning change that is part of the council’s larger effort to build more affordable housing.
“To be real, it’s complicated,” wrote Harrison in an email to the INDY.
More on development around Dix Park
The new council member wrote that she wants to be thoughtful before trading in green space for more development, particularly in a forested area that “protects the floodplain around Rocky Branch Creek, providing needed erosion control, water quality protection, and green space opportunities in what otherwise is a heat island just south of downtown.”
Harrison says she is also worried about building more in an area that is surrounded by low- and middle-income neighborhoods, as well as one that is “upstream from frequently flooded Rochester Heights, a historic African-American community,” she wrote.
At the same time, she understands the need for affordable housing.
“At the [Growth and Natural Resources] Committee, we will review buildable areas on the site and consider the multiple paths to achieve more affordable housing in this area,” Harrison wrote. “This isn’t the only one.”
Harrison’s motion to move the issue to the committee also stems from a desire to add additional environmental and affordable housing protections to the Comprehensive Plan. Not all of the recommendations from the Dix Edge study made it into the
Among the amendments Harrison wants are a provision to work with local developers to build affordable housing on “infill parcels,” incentivize affordable housing with city funding for infrastructure, and provide land grants to nonprofits building affordable housing. Harrison says she also wants the city council to consider directing developers to conserve nearby wetland and river corridors, as well as study strategies to mitigate erosion along Rocky Branch Creek.
What happens next?
Ultimately, the decision about whether to move the Dix Edge study to committee or discuss it among the entire council seems to come down to scheduling issues. Although many city council members favor discussing the item at a workshop, time-sensitive development issues and budget items have filled the council’s workshop agenda for the next several months.
Still, some are concerned this marks a new era of “analysis paralysis” for the city. Of the eight rezoning cases that came before the council last month, only one was approved, noted Eric Braun, a former land use lawyer and local political commentator, in a newsletter for Raleigh Forward, a 501(c)(4) organization that monitors city council goings-on. All eight rezonings were recommended for approval by the city’s Planning Commission.
“Several zoning cases that could add to the City’s housing supply, including permanent affordable housing, were deferred or placed into committee for additional study,” Braun wrote.
“While deferring cases or placing them in committee is not unusual, Council must act reasonably swiftly on housing proposals due to the significant time it takes to permit, finance and build them,” Braun continued. “Every delay adds further time between when a project is approved and being occupied by new residents.”
Discussion of the Dix Edge Area Study will take place at the Growth and Natural Resources Committee’s next meeting on February 28. After that, it could come back before the city council in March.
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