A small group of wealthy, white homeowners gathered outside the Raleigh city council chambers Tuesday to protest the city’s “missing middle” zoning policy.
The policy—a long overdue update to the city’s antiquated zoning rules—allows developers to build duplexes and townhomes in historically single-family neighborhoods. The new rules are designed to increase the supply of homes, particularly lower-priced ones affordable for families entering the market.
The policy became a lightning rod for debate earlier this year when a developer proposed a project that would tear down a historic home in the Hayes Barton neighborhood and replace it with 17 luxury townhomes. The townhomes are expected to sell for upwards of $2 million, according to city staff.
The project drew outrage from nearby residents, especially since the new zoning rules allow the project to move forward without a public hearing. In response, they formed a grassroots group dubbed “Restore Raleigh’s Zoning,” which held its first protest outside city council chambers last month.
Dozens of people, carrying bright yellow “Save Our Neighborhoods” signs, showed up to speak against the Hayes Barton development in September, arguing its lack of affordable housing is a failure of the “missing middle” policy.
“Restore Raleigh’s Zoning” doesn’t just object to the Hayes Barton development, however. They’ve condemned the “missing middle” policy as a whole, saying it will “destroy neighborhoods.” The policy has become a major election issue as pro-growth city council members prepare to face voters in November.
“Restore Raleigh’s Zoning” represents an attitude toward zoning the Raleigh city council has been fighting for the last two years. Members overwhelmingly want to put a stop the city’s growth, preserving traditional, single-family neighborhoods even in the face of rising housing prices.
One Hayes Barton resident, Frank Gordon, said the city council was waging a “war” against single-family homes with the zoning changes. The group’s website says the policy “destabilizes” neighborhoods and argues the city council has taken away residents’ right to public hearings on zoning issues.
In fact, the policy is a major step forward in increasing housing supply, allowing developers to build townhomes without facing a lengthy and cumbersome rezoning process. The Hayes Barton development, with its high-priced housing, is the exception, not the rule. Even the Hayes Barton development, however, is a win for the city council. As Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says, 17 million-dollar homes is better than one million-dollar mansion.
The “missing middle” policy is a big change to the way zoning works, but it should be a welcome one. It’s one more step away from the exclusionary zoning practices that plunged Raleigh into the housing crisis in the first place.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.