Projects years in the making are finally coming to fruition as the Raleigh City Council approved funding, site plans, and zoning changes on Tuesday that will transform the city. But some argue the changes will have unintended consequences, including displacement and gentrification.
After 10 years of planning, construction on the New Bern Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route is finally set to start in December or January, following the council’s approval of about $89 million for the project.
The route, which stretches 5.4 miles from downtown Raleigh to New Hope Road, outside I-440, also includes stops at WakeMed and east Raleigh neighborhoods. During high traffic times, buses are scheduled to stop every 10 minutes, vastly improving the existing public transportation system. The city is set to purchase seven new, energy-efficient buses for the route.
Once construction is complete, likely in summer 2025, New Bern Avenue will have 3.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes, 10 stations, and 19 platforms, along with a multi-use path and sidewalk improvements in places. Five more routes to the west, north, and south (with connections to Garner, Clayton, and Research Triangle Park) are in design and planning stages, according to city staff.
In addition to building a new BRT route, the city council intends to change zoning rules along New Bern Avenue to encourage denser development. Council members say this Transit Overlay District (TOD) will incentivize developers to construct affordable housing, commercial spaces that offer job opportunities, and pedestrian-friendly plazas and streets.
Some local activists, however, are worried that these zoning changes will hasten gentrification of some of the city’s historically African American neighborhoods. Increased density and building heights may attract developers who want to build upscale apartment buildings and high-end retail that is unaffordable to current residents. Many Raleighites have already been displaced because of similar development in other parts of the city.
Activists also worry that the zoning rules don’t do enough to guarantee affordable housing for the residents who need it most—those making 30 percent AMI or below. Members of the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition began protesting the TOD last year, and commenters have continued to show up at Planning Commission committee meetings to raise their concerns over the plan.
The Planning Commission’s Committee of the Whole has been discussing the proposed zoning changes since April, but the deadline for the commission to make a recommendation to the city council is rapidly approaching. On Tuesday, the city council approved amendments to the TOD in response to public comments, removing a prohibition on one and two-unit housing structures in the area and limiting the size of non-residential constructs, like gyms, in apartment buildings.
The Planning Commission must take action by October 23, according to the current schedule. Its members are expected to discuss the matter later this month.
The commission also faces a decision on whether the city’s comprehensive plan (its guidelines for future development) should be amended to address residents’ concerns around the New Bern Avenue TOD. The commission’s deadline for action on that set of proposed amendments is November 22.
Also Tuesday, the city council approved expansion of the Moore Square site slated for redevelopment. Construction is expected to start within the next several months. Affordable housing east of Moore Square will be built first, followed by a hotel near City Market.
More than 500 housing units are planned, with 160 to 190 reserved for affordable housing. The units will be available to people making a mix of incomes, broken down as follows:
- 30 units are reserved for residents making 80 percent of area median income (AMI) or below
- 70 for residents making 60 percent AMI
- 30 for those making 50 percent AMI, and
- 24 for those making 30 percent AMI.
Activists raised some concerns about the plan to redevelop Moore Square last year when the Raleigh City Council first sought proposals from developers. The former city council encouraged developers to include affordable housing, but did not specify how much or at what income levels. Some were worried proposals would not include enough affordable housing or serve Raleigh’s most in-need residents.
Today, activist Reeves Peeler says he remains concerned.
“I think our former City Council could’ve been much bolder and had a better vision of what Raleigh truly needs than this plan they chose for Moore Square,” Peeler wrote in an email to the INDY. “Not only do I think we could’ve gotten more affordable housing, and gotten it in both plats, but also I think it’s disappointing they chose a plan for East Moore that segregates the market rate and low-income housing into separate buildings.”
On Tuesday, city staff said the developer’s proposal was among the best they received, both in terms of the number of affordable housing units and availability to residents with a mix of income levels. As part of the project, the developer will build a new headquarters for Raleigh Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that ministers to the homeless. The project also includes two hotels, a retail and dining area, a grocery store, and co-working space.
“I think this is a wonderful use of the sites that are very underutilized around Moore Square,” said council member Jonathan Melton. “We know we need hotel rooms, they’re proposing two hotels. We know we need affordable housing, they’re proposing substantial affordable housing. They’re going to partner with the Raleigh Rescue Mission and rebuild their facility, which I think will help a lot with supportive services.”
Melton added that the current space, which includes some surface parking lots, is generally deserted. ArtSpace, a longtime Black woman-owned business, will be part of the development, Melton noted.
The Raleigh City Council approved $206 million in funding for its new headquarters, East Civic Tower.
A series of budget listening sessions is scheduled to start October 10 as the Raleigh City Council seeks input on its FY 24-25 budget. It’s not as inclusive as Durham’s participatory budgeting program, but it’s a start.
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