Neighbors, Developers Face Challenges in Rapidly Growing City

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The Falls of Neuse shopping center rezoning case, a development that has caused debates between developers and residents, has once again been postponed by City Council — this time, to May 12 for a public hearing.

The controversial site of a new development off Falls of Neuse

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

The controversial site of a new development off Falls of Neuse

The developers of the property, Florida-based Morgan Property Group, would like to rezone the area to Neighborhood Mixed Use, which would allow for up to 58,000 square feet of retail. The original plans included building a Publix at the development.

The current plot is zoned for small offices and business, something residents of the surrounding area would like to see.

David Cox from Grow Raleigh Great, an organization that represents the residents in the Falls of Neuse Road development controversy, said he would be happy to see a combination of medical offices, small offices, and some residential developments for the parcel.

“The ideal situation is, ‘Let’s build something that fits in with the surrounding residential element,’” he said.

Cox said he’s also concerned about the traffic impact of a potential large retail shopping center. Most people shop on the weekends, which would lead to a large influx of cars on Falls of Neuse Road and the road it intersects with, Dunn Road. With small offices, medical offices, and residential developments, the traffic impact would be spread out throughout the day and week.

But Mack Paul, the attorney for Morgan Property Group, said the current zoning would cause more traffic issues.

“The current office zoning will generate as much or more traffic during rush hour times than the proposed zoning,” Paul wrote in an email. “Rush hour is when the traffic in the area is at its worst … If residents prefer the existing zoning based on traffic concerns, then residents should understand how current zoning compares to the latest proposal.”

A recent traffic study done for the site.

City of Raleigh

A recent traffic study done for the site.

City Council has asked Morgan Property Group to complete a new traffic analysis, and present its findings during the May 12 public hearing.

Growing Pains

As Raleigh continues to grow and develop, there are bound to be more disagreements between developers and residents, said Steve Schuster, a member of the Raleigh Planning Commission.

“With the improving economy, there will be more development in Raleigh than during the recession,” Schuster said. “With more development, it’s inevitable that there will be stress points between developers and residents.”

The Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2009, which changed the rules for development within the city, also may cause some tension between developers and existing neighborhoods.

In late September, the site on which the Gramercy will sit was cleared of all existing buildings

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

In late September 2014, the site on which the Gramercy will sit was cleared of all existing buildings

 

Before the Comprehensive Plan was adopted, developers would just “leap frog out,” when they wanted to develop, said City Councilor Russ Stephenson.

Developers would buy and develop land where few people lived. This meant there were fewer disagreements between neighbors and developers, but this method was very expensive for the city to maintain infrastructure, Stephenson said.

When the Comprehensive Plan was implemented, the plan was to make Raleigh more walkable and bike-able, rather that to continue developing out.
“It’s a natural tension between growth and preservation,” Stephenson said.

There are still some discrepancies that need to be worked out in the Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which are the list of rules that help implements the comprehensive plan goals, Stephenson said.

The UDO is a 600-page document that, among other things, rewrites the zoning code in Raleigh. The UDO sometimes has some overlap that needs to still be ironed out, Stephenson said.

“The bigger picture is that there’s a bunch of new rules and because of that, there are a lot of gray areas,” he said.

Neighborhood Impact

On March 6, City Council voted to deny case Z-35-13, also known as Meredith Heights. Stephenson said this case is one of the best cases he’s seen for the future of neighborhood transitions in Raleigh.

This area off Hillsborough Street could eventually be home to a new housing complex

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

Meredith Heights was originally proposed for this area off Hillsborough Street was

The developers, Cedar Fork Investments, wanted to build a 5-story apartment building on Hillsborough Street. Neighbors protested the project, claiming it did not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood and the UDO.

Neighbors wanted the building to be 4 stories, which did not work economically for the developer, said Paul, who is also the attorney for Cedar Forks Investment.

The 2.18-acre site is considered to be in an area zoned for future neighborhood mixed-use development in the Comprehensive Plan, Stephenson said. But due to parts of the surrounding neighborhoods, which included townhomes and a one-story apartment building, the developers were required to only place a 5-foot buffer between the proposed development and existing neighborhood.

Stephenson said another important factor he looks at when approving developments — and another aspect of the comprehensive plan — is preserving existing neighborhoods.

In the proposed Meredith Heights development, the comprehensive plan “showed two competing things,” he said

“Neighborhood preservation and responsible development are both equally valid policies that need to be taken into consideration,” Stephenson said.

The developers and residents were able to compromise on a lot of aspects of the project, Paul said, but ultimately, Cedar Forks Investments decided to not pursue the development and asked City Council to deny the development. A new developer has since been chosen.

“The new developer, FMW Real Estate, has a strong track record on Hillsborough Street and a different development prototype — smaller buildings of no more than four stories,” Paul wrote. “FMW has already met with the neighbors and plans to proceed shortly.”

Common Ground

Despite the many conflicts, developers and residents are often able to reach compromises in proposed rezoning cases.

The Stanhope Center on Hillsborough Street is currently under construction, but its developers spent more than a year trying to compromise with surrounding residents.

The site of a future apartment complex on Hilsborough Street

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

Site work on the Stanhope project began in April 2014

The original proposal was for a 9-story building, which neighbors opposed. At the time, neighbors were also concerned about a potential increase in traffic from the new development.

Eventually, neighbors and the developer, Kane Realty Group, were able to reach an agreement — the development would by 5 stories tall, which was in-line with the Comprehensive Plan, Stephenson said.

“Ultimately, neighbors looked at the Comprehensive Plan and said ‘We do believe in the Comprehensive Plan’ in that case,” he said.

Looming Conflict

But while a compromise was reaching for the Stanhope Center, residents near the proposed Falls of Neuse development aren’t sure one is possible in this case.

“I don’t anticipate a compromise being reached between the neighboring citizens and the current developer,” Vicki Crenshaw who lives near the proposed development, wrote in an email.

“Our goal since day one has been to prevent rezoning of the site and the current developer has since day one wanted the site rezoned to accommodate a shopping center.”

David Cox from Grow Raleigh Great agrees.

“We’ve had many discussions for over a year and a half with Morgan Property [Group] and they’ve said the only thing that would be economically viable is what they’ve proposed — what they are used to building,” he said. “We hope to work with a new developer and get the land developed.”

Signs protesting the new development can be seen right across the street from the potential site

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

Signs protesting the proposed Falls of Neuse development can be seen right across the street from the potential site

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