It’s not every day that a parcel of valuable land right in the middle of downtown Raleigh opens up for redevelopment—much less two sites at the same time.

This October, the Raleigh City Council will receive a final recommendation for the redevelopment plan for two parcels of city-owned land: Moore Square East and Moore Square South. The eastern parcel encompasses 2.5 acres of land located at 215 South Person Street, while the southern site includes a 0.9-acre site at 225 East Davie Street and 228-230 East Martin Street.

The council will vote on a recommendation that is decided on through the city’s request for proposal (RFP) process, by which developers were encouraged to submit site plans for a mixed-use development project with the options of office, retail, residential, and hospitality spaces, plus affordable housing, that would contribute to the vibrancy and vitality of downtown.

Nine proposals were submitted by the June 27 deadline, and a committee composed of city staff from the planning, housing and neighborhoods, and parks departments intends to bring its initial recommendations to council on September 9 before submitting a final recommendation in October, says Patrick Young, Raleigh’s director of planning and development.

“Overall, we were very, very pleased with the proposals and [are] thinking that there’s certainly at least one that will meet the goal of council to promote affordability and to create a signature redevelopment in downtown,” Young says.

Not everyone is so pleased with the development plans in the RFP, though. On July 5, many local Raleigh groups, including Emancipate NC, Wake County Housing Justice Coalition, Food Not Bombs, Meals for the Masses, Muslims for Social Justice, RREPS, and PSL Carolinas, met outside city hall for a press conference where they criticized the city’s priorities for the Moore Square redevelopment plan.

The RFP describes redevelopment as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity,” says Reeves Peeler, a volunteer at Wake County Housing Justice Coalition who attended the press conference.

“We would agree it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity but not for the reasons they’re saying. They’re saying it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to flip land and bring a bunch of money into city coffers,” Peeler says. “We think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give citizens of Raleigh permanent affordable housing that’s right downtown, close to resources, close to restaurants, close to the urban center of the city, close to the cultural center of the city.”

The RFP states that the city is committed to prioritizing and maximizing affordable housing units on these parcels to address a certain unspecified percentage of area median income (AMI), which is the household income of the median, or “middle,” household in a given region.

It’s the RFP’s language surrounding affordable housing that is most worrying, says Peeler.

“What they say is ‘We will encourage affordable housing at East Moore Square,’ which is the slightly bigger of the two parcels, but they don’t give any AMI levels,” Peeler says. “They don’t say if it will be for 30 percent AMI and under or 80 percent AMI.”

Peeler says that the RFP also mentions that organizations submitting plans could decide to integrate affordable units into mixed-income buildings by utilizing an 80/20 structure, where 80 percent of units are market rate and 20 percent are affordable units reserved for those at or below 50 percent AMI.

“For just the east parcel, they say something along the lines of ‘We will strongly consider proposals that have an 80/20 split,’” Peeler says. “It doesn’t guarantee AMI level; it doesn’t guarantee that it’s permanent affordability.”

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says the RFP’s lack of details around AMI level and other affordability factors was intentional.

“We intentionally did not specify the number of units or anything else because we wanted people to come back with their own creative solutions,” Baldwin says. “We told them in the RFP that affordable housing was important to us and please incorporate this into your model, but we did not want to stifle creativity.”

Young says the goal of the RFP is to gain additional resources by leveraging the value of the land so that the private sector can help support the goal of affordable housing.

“The value of the land is the way that we are getting the funds to create what hopefully will be a deep subsidy, so not just 80 percent AMI, but also 50 percent and 30 percent,” Young says. “I understand and appreciate the interest to have as much affordable housing on the site as we can get. And we share that goal, but we feel like the only way to go at that effectively is to maximize the value of the land to help support the affordability, and that can only be done with a private partner or private partners.”

In selling that land to a private developer, though, Peeler says the city loses all control over its future use and long-term affordability.

“That land would be much better served being in the hands of the people of Raleigh,” Peeler says. “It’s right downtown; it’s walkable; it’s close to the main bus station for GoRaleigh and GoTriangle.”

Peeler isn’t alone in this belief, says Wanda Hunter, a community advocate who grew up minutes from these sites on Bloodworth Street and is running for a seat on the Raleigh council in District C, which includes the Moore Square parcels.

“We know that if the city sells these people land, it’ll go to a developer who will not have the city’s best interest at heart,” Hunter says. “Right now, when it comes to housing, the city’s best interest is to house those people whom we have a lack of housing for, which tends to be people [at/under] 50 and 30 percent of the AMI, because we do not have enough housing stock for those people.”

Hunter says that the sale of this land would also exacerbate the issue of homelessness in downtown Raleigh.

“Those people end up with nowhere to go, so that’s why we see them in the Moore Square area, out around the park,” Hunter says. “Selling the land off doesn’t solve that problem or make poor people move away; it just exacerbates it.”

Though this question of whether the city will retain the property primarily impacts the people of Raleigh, Peeler says the public has been almost entirely excluded from conversations about this plan.

“The Moore Square South and East parcels that we’re talking about are owned by the people of the city of Raleigh,” Peeler says. “They’re public property, and we feel, among many other things, that there’s been absolutely no public input into what’s going to happen to this public property.”

Peeler says that while normally there would be a public input period for such a significant city matter, his organization was not able to identify any opportunity for the public to voice their opinions about the redevelopment plan.

“Who knew about this?” Peeler says. “Who even knew the RFP was posted, much less when was the public input period? And then of course the third and really biggest issue on all of this is: Does this council and mayor even give any attention to the public input?”

While there wasn’t a public input period after the RFP was posted, Baldwin says that the city’s planning department led an extensive public engagement process before the land was considered for rezoning and that the council will take public comment before making a final decision.

Identifying opportunities for public input wasn’t always so convoluted, Hunter says. Formerly, citizen advisory councils (CACs) would have served to inform the public about such issues within the municipal government, but the council abolished CACs in 2020. Although the council promised to replace them with an improved system for citizen engagement, that promise so far remains unfulfilled.

“When they repealed [CACs], they took away the citizens’ opportunity to weigh in on development, because that was one of the first stops that developers had to go through … to see how the community felt about whatever that development was in their particular community,” Hunter says.

Peeler says that it’s important that the public has a platform or space to voice opinions, and that when residents take the time to speak on city matters, they’re actually heard.

“The number one step is creating an actual public input process that’s real, and showing there’s some accountability that the city is considering it—because that’s square one and we’re not even there yet,” Peeler says.

Baldwin says that people should wait for the process to play out before alarm bells start ringing and that she has many goals for how the city can prosper from this land.

“The value of that land is about $25 million, so we want to make sure we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck,” Baldwin says. “I want to see how plans integrate with the park; I want to see what the commitment is to good architecture, open space, all the things that matter to people, and then obviously the affordable housing piece.”

Ultimately, Hunter says much of the problem with this plan and redevelopment as a whole lies in the misconstrued definition of what the “affordable housing piece” really means.

“The council’s current definition of affordable housing is 80 percent of the AMI, and I’m just going to be honest with you: I don’t make 80 percent of the AMI,” Hunter says. “A lot of developers for rezoning cases have said that they are including 80 percent of the AMI and that checks off the box for affordable housing for them. But the question remains: Affordable to whom?”

Peeler says what matters most isn’t just the imminent impact of the council’s decision on the redevelopment plan but also securing a viable and affordable future for residents.

“Making that [land] available for generations to come, and [for] people of all races, of all classes,” Peeler says. “That’s really important, and if you sell it off—especially in a market like now—you lose that forever. The city probably won’t ever be able to afford to buy back land that’s that close to downtown ever again.”

Despite the many concerns surrounding the future of this site, Young says he believes the final Moore Square redevelopment plan will demonstrate the city’s commitment to affordability for its residents.

“My hope is that it will show the city’s commitment to remaining accessible and affordable to all,” Young says. “Downtown’s a really high-demand area. The price has accelerated massively, and we want to make sure that all the folks that live, work, and play downtown can live downtown.” 

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