A rezoning case that will allow a restored church in the Prince Hall historic district in south Raleigh to be utilized as a restaurant was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission Tuesday, in an 8-2 vote.
In his presentation to the commission, the owner of 501 South Person Street, Phuc Tran, said he had met with most of the surrounding neighbors on an individual basis, and that they had overwhelmingly supported his plans. Three of those neighbors spoke in favor of the project before the commission on Tuesday.
Three other neighbors, however, spoke in opposition.
Veronica Alcine told commissioners she was there on behalf of the Central Citizens Advisory Council, whose members cast 21 votes against the project. Alcine said neither she nor the CAC opposed a restaurant in the neighborhood; they merely opposed a restaurant that would serve alcohol.
In addition to the potential nuisance factor that a liquor license could bring, Alcine said that serving alcohol in what was once a Seventh Day Adventist church went against the traditions of that faith.
“We want to protect the character of the neighborhood, the cultural heritage of the neighborhood,” Alcine said.
Those who were in favor of the project noted that Mr. Tran had come in at the last minute and saved the historic structure from demolition.
“The neighborhood is extremely fortunate not only that someone was willing to take a huge risk, but that it’s someone who’s undertaken so far a careful and painstaking rehabilitation,” said local resident Jenny Harper.
“He’s genuinely interested in being part of this community, he’s not a big developer, not some shadow LLC from some far-flung state — he’s someone trying to do a good thing,” she said.
Tran, who noted that his rezoning request would soon be made unnecessary by a rezoning of the city’s own under the UDO, said that he was extremely passionate about the project, and that he cared a great deal about its future.
“I used most of my life savings to step up, while everyone else decided to step away — including the previous owner — who thought it was unsalvageable,” Tran told the commissioners.
While the commissioners agreed that the city’s remapping plans would allow for a restaurant in the space, they said they felt they owed it to the property owner to vote one way or the other.
While some commissioners expressed dismay at the fact that alcohol would be served in a former church, others were satisfied to learn that a bar or nightclub would be prohibited from operating in the space.
Planning commissioners voted to defer all three new rezoning cases on the agenda, as well as to approve several minor text change amendments in the Unified Development Ordinance.
The zoning cases deferred included Z-33-14, a residential mixed-use development on Tryon Road near Gorman Street, Z-42-14, a mixed-use development on the intersection of East Lenoir and South Wilmington Streets and Z-1-15, a significant rezoning that would classify eight parcels totaling more than 2 acres in the warehouse district as downtown mixed-use.
Although Z-33 and Z-1 were deferred mostly to allow the developers more time to review staff comments, Z-42 was deferred to allow for a lengthy historical review process. The process is required because the rezoning would tear down several historic structures.
Commissioners also noted the permanent addition to their agenda of a public comment section.
“We wanted to give the citizens of our town the opportunity to come to any planning commission meeting and offer their point of view,” said Planning Commission chairman Steven Schuster.
Although no one was present on Tuesday to offer public commentary, Schuster encouraged all Raleigh residents to come out and offer their opinions.
“Since this is being televised,” Schuster said, “We would like to tell you to come and offer your points of view, to help guide us.”