Mary Johnson bought her thousand-square-foot East Jones Street bungalow in 1998 for $45,000. There are lots of modest homes like hers in this neighborhood, a mile from downtown, surrounded by crepe myrtle trees with pink flowers that bloom in the summer. When the seventy-five-year-old sits on her front porch, neighbors stop by to say hello. 

But her neighborhood, like so much of Raleigh, is changing. New homes around here are selling for almost half-a-million bucks, and they don’t look like Johnson’s. They’re big, boxy structures designed to maximize square footage on small lots. Other houses in this East Raleigh neighborhood are designated “affordable”; they’re built by the city and sell for well below the market rate. 

Johnson doesn’t mind her new neighbors. Some, she says, “are lovely. But there were some families that were two, three generations in our area, and they are gone.” 

And while they’ve watched their neighborhood change, residents feel like they haven’t had much of a say about what it should look like. 

Until last month, that is. 

Johnson was one of thirteen members of the North Central Citizens Advisory Council who voted against a rezoning request from developer Dayong Gan to add ten townhouses to an empty, half-acre lot at the corner of Tarboro and Boyer Streets, directly across from the Tarboro Road Community Center and a block and a half from a bus stop. Only three CAC members voted for it. 

City staffers believed the project was consistent with the comprehensive plan’s vision to add density to walkable neighborhoods near downtown. Perhaps the project was a little too dense—the future land-use map calls for fourteen units per acre, while this plan would yield the equivalent of twenty—but it would ultimately produce more affordable units than single-family homes. 

Johnson was horrified. 

“A townhouse, no matter what it was priced at, would be hideous in our neighborhood,” she says. 

She wants single-family homes and nothing else. 

Octavia Rainey, who chairs the North Central CAC, agrees. She says other neighbors were concerned about the townhomes’ price point, which the developer did not provide. Not only would the townhomes drive up property values around them, Rainey says, but they would also clash with the neighborhood’s historic character. 

“It’s nothing but gentrification,” Rainey says. “You are trying to erase the past and make it more of a bourgeois present, and that’s all you’re doing.”

This neighborhood used to be black, Rainey says. But the people moving in are usually white. 

“This is the city’s new way of bringing in younger, white neighborhoods. That’s all it is,” Rainey says. “They are steadily pushing out the black folks for higher-income residents.” 

While the CAC vote is advisory and the project was slated to go to the planning commission later this month, Gan withdrew his rezoning request last week, according to Jason Hardin of the city’s planning department. 

“It won’t be moving forward,” Hardin told the INDY in an email. “They did not indicate what their plans might be at this point.”

Gan’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. 

For Johnson, this was a victory, and she plans to celebrate accordingly: “I know all my neighbors are going to be happy. I’m going to march up and down Jones Street and tell people face-to-face what’s happening.” 

But for the city to fulfill its goals of adding density around transit corridors, something has to give. Some neighborhoods will have to change.

Inevitably, that will mean more neighbors banding together in opposition, says Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who leaves office in early December. 

The scuffle over Tarboro Road, she says, is just the beginning of what lies ahead for the new, development-friendly council led by mayor-elect Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“I think this is a great deal of what we’re going to be facing,” McFarlane says. “We have to figure out how to accommodate density. How do we transition from these transit corridors to these single-family neighborhoods so they still maintain their character?”

Johnson says she’s ready for another fight.

“I’m sure that client won’t be the last,” Johnson says. “We will remain vigilant. We want to stay on top of what is coming our way, and while we love for the city of Raleigh to grow and prosper, we want our neighborhood to stay the same.”