Six Hayes Barton homeowners are suing Raleigh in an effort to get rid of the “missing middle” housing policies approved by the city council in 2021 and 2022. 

Collectively, the policies allow for the construction of ADUs, townhomes, and apartments in historically single-family neighborhoods as well as incentivize high-density development along major roads. 

“Missing middle,” however, has also become a catchall phrase for the city’s new approach to housing and development, which shifted significantly after Mary-Ann Baldwin was elected mayor in 2019. Since then, Baldwin has led the city council in an effort to create more affordable housing by reducing exclusionary zoning, which restricts the kinds of homes that can be built in a neighborhood. 

Baldwin’s efforts sparked protests from some homeowners in wealthy historic districts like Oakwood and Hayes Barton, who have said “missing middle” destroys traditional neighborhoods. 

One of the biggest protests came last year, when the city council approved a developer’s plan to tear down a historic home in Hayes Barton and replace it with 17 luxury townhomes, each expected to sell for upwards of $2 million. The “missing middle” changes meant the developer didn’t have to request a rezoning and moved forward without a public hearing. 

Neighboring homeowners held protests outside city council chambers, repeating their usual arguments that the project would lower the value of their homes, reduce the tree canopy and increase flooding, and make traffic unmanageable.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges that the city council didn’t do what they were legally required to do when they approved the “missing middle” reforms. Hayes Barton homeowners argue the changes should have been treated as zoning map amendments, which require notices to property owners and neighborhood meetings, instead of text changes, which require much less public outreach. 

If a judge agrees, the “missing middle” reforms could be declared invalid, and the city would have to restart the process of approving policy changes that have already been in effect for several years. 

In the lawsuit, homeowners have also named the three companies involved in the Hayes Barton townhome project in a seeming effort to bring it to a halt. If “missing middle” is declared invalid that could open to door for arguments that the townhome project is also invalid and construction must stop. 

The Hayes Barton homeowners, or plaintiffs, argue that they will be “uniquely and adversely affected, and will suffer special damages … in the form of increased traffic and parking … increases in the rate and flow of stormwater, and a diminution in the value of Plaintiffs’ properties.”


The future of missing middle

Earlier this year, the city council held a series of neighborhood meetings in an effort to persuade people of the pros of “missing middle.” City staff argued that the policies will boost affordable housing, create more environmentally-friendly homes, and bolster public transit. 

Notably, tensions were high at the meeting held in Five Points (closest to the Hayes Barton neighborhood), which was attended by more than 100 people, mostly protesting “missing middle.” People in other neighborhoods also raised some concerns. 

Those concerns will be discussed by the city council during a work session Tuesday. The meeting is the first major discussion of “missing middle” since the 2022 election, when four new people were elected to the city council. Some are worried this may mark the start of an effort to amend or repeal the “missing middle” policies.

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