With Dix Park finally secured for our city, Raleigh Union Station under construction, and a building boom underway, a long list of challenges and opportunities are ahead for Downtown Raleigh. The N&O summed it up this way:
"A new, taller, more crowded, faster-moving downtown Raleigh is coming. That’s inevitable. Whether it will be a downtown people will want visit or live in, or whether it will be a congested, expensive, disjointed center they want to avoid, depends on how well the city council sees a better tomorrow today."
That was my point in May and June when I suggested to Council that with so many important decisions ahead for the future of downtown, let's make sure we have a strong guiding vision to focus our downtown efforts, especially before we take on anything as significant as downtown remapping.
We don't have to look too far to see the results of actions taken without and with a vision. The first example is Capital Boulevard, where large strips of land were up-zoned several decades ago to promote economic development and capture retail tax base. But without a clear vision of the outcome, we have discovered that bigger doesn't guarantee better. The second example is the 2003 Livable Streets initiative, which focused public and private investments on a few clear goals and a strong vision for a reconstructed Fayetteville Street. That vision launched the revitalization of downtown Raleigh.
On any given day, Council is confronted with a complex and often conflicting mix of questions about what to do downtown to get the best results: where to encourage tall buildings, how to sell valuable city-owned land, how and where to promote more urban green space, where and how to promote more living options and fund affordable housing, how to promote a better mix of downtown retail including a grocery store, and where to focus public infrastructure investments and zoning entitlements. Fortunately, all of these issues have been debated in public over the past year and a half and are now reconciled into a coordinated draft vision to guide decision-making over the next ten years. This Downtown Plan provides a set of strategic goals and action items, and five 'catalytic project' opportunities for major public and private investments. Now that Dix Park is assured, lets add it to the downtown vision and have a public discussion about how to prioritize our efforts - as we did with Livable Streets - with a clear, bold vision for a great downtown.
If you haven’t been there, check out the ‘Makers’ Community’ of artisan studios next to Boylan Heights. This thriving community has long been one of Raleigh’s gems, and a great contributor to our city’s distinctive character. Many of their wonderful creations can be seen annually at the Boylan Heights ArtWalk. Mark your calendar, this year’s event is on December 6.
Protecting the uniqueness of neighborhoods keeps Raleigh’s creativity flourishing. We need to ensure that UDO remapping also protects this healthy mix of artist workspaces and historic homes. That’s why I’ve asked planning staff to meet with the Boylan Heights Makers’ Community and residents to find solutions to zoning change concerns.
Working together we can create quality growth while protecting neighborhoods.
We must make sure we are promoting high quality growth that also protects neighborhoods. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, accomplishing both goals is the difference between growing a big city and growing a GREAT city.
There is a lot of interest in the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and the changes it will bring to Raleigh. Citizens and citizen groups have flooded council with concerns about the effects to their neighborhoods and the city as a whole. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about some important issues the UDO remapping raises.
As an urban design consultant and an architect specializing in historic preservation, I've had a special interest, expertise and involvement over the past several years in the development of the UDO. The new UDO zoning rules are a vast improvement over the old zoning code toward implementing Raleigh's adopted 2030 vision of growth that is more compact and walkable, with vertically mixed uses and more car-free mobility options. But that overarching drive to urbanize, redevelop and intensify has led to UDO rules that promote redevelopment in areas where there is no community consensus for redevelopment.
I have expressed these concerns in Council meetings and staff meetings, and I've made 23 presentations over the past 12 months to citizen groups across the city. My message has been this: while the UDO is intended to implement Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan goals in a balanced way, the draft UDO rules tend to emphasize redevelopment goals at the expense of neighborhood preservation goals in a few significant ways.
Here is a short list of UDO rule changes and remapping changes that are needed to protect the healthy variety and older grain of neighborhood edges including Oakwood south of Edenton. Both of these UDO changes would reinstate protections that exist today in Raleigh's existing zoning rules, but that have been eliminated in the UDO.
1. Do not remap new UDO zoning districts onto existing neighborhood edge fabric that impose more intense uses, such as alcohol-serving establishments. These changes will drive out low-density residential uses and promote more intense redevelopment.
Instead, create an updated version of the mixed-use buffer district in the existing code - one that protects the current healthy variety and older grain of the neighborhood edges. Develop a zoning district that is limited to low-impact, neighborhood-supportive office, retail and residential uses and apply it at neighborhood edges.
2. Do not eliminate the existing zoning code's Transitional Protective Yard buffer protections for existing low-density residential uses. Eliminating these buffers will drive out low-density residential uses and promote more intense redevelopment.
Instead, incorporate Transitional Protective Yard buffers into the UDO's transition rules and expand those rules to protect additional low-density dwelling types, such as attached single-family dwellings and dwelling-to-commercial conversions that preserve the neighborhood character and stability.
3. Council should convene a stakeholder group to work with staff to implement the UDO refinements outlined above - before the remapping is finalized. There is no point in rushing to adopt the new UDO remapping rules until they protect the healthy variety and older grain of our neighborhood edges.
These issues are of central importance to maintaining quality growth in Raleigh, and the current conversation is essential in helping citizens understand some of what is at stakes in the remapping process. What are your thoughts? Join the discussion!
The mega-Remap rezoning public hearing for 34,000 non-residential parcels across the city will be held on July 7th at 7pm.
1. FUND AFFORDABLE HOUSING - Downtown draft remap involves granting $100M+ in land value entitlements without any corresponding community benefits, including dedicated funding for affordable housing. That must change!
2. CHOOSE A DIRECTION BEFORE TAKING STEPS - The Downtown Remap is being undertaken BEFORE the draft Downtown Vision Plan is adopted. This is totally backward! The downtown vision plan must be adopted before allocating land value entitlements (see #1). Vision first, implementation actions second!
3. PROTECT HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS - The downtown Remap proposes to grant high intensity uses across older historic African-American neighborhood blocks near downtown. If approved, bars, nightclubs, taverns and lounges could set up shop and serve alcohol until 2am without any public review or input. This is the ultimate disrespect for these neighborhood blocks.Read more