Rezoning Case Could Create “Open Season” On Historic Districts

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The planning commission committee of the whole held an item last Tuesday that proposed the rezoning of a property with statewide historical significance. The proposed rezoning has significant support but would set a precedent and allow for “open season on our historic districts,” according to planning commission chairman Steven Schuster.

The rezoning case — Z-42-14 — concerns a property that contains two buildings of historical significance, one of which belongs to the General Baptist State Convention. The buildings are from the early 20th century and are at the intersection of E. Lenoir Street and S. Wilmington Street.

The site in question is located behind the McDonalds

Bing Maps

The site in question is located behind the McDonalds

The rezoning would allow for increased residential density and the removal of the historic overlay district in order to build an upscale hotel that would also serve as the new General Baptist State Convention headquarters. An additional condition specified that the two historic buildings would be moved to an off-site location.

Speaking at the committee meeting, Reverend Haywood Gray of General Baptist State Convention told planning commission members that the organization supported the rezoning because it would allow for “modern space [that] we need to move boldly in the 21st century.”

“We don’t have the capital to do this and we think this is a great opportunity for us and for the people we serve,” Gray said.

General Baptist State Convention. owns this existing office building on Wilmington Street

Wake County

General Baptist State Convention. owns this existing office building on Wilmington Street

Shaw University, located near the property, added its support, indicating that the University planned to build a partnership with the organization building the hotel to add to the University’s business program, which would include hospitality work.

The Central CAC also voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning.

The Raleigh historic development commission came out against the rezoning, with one member telling planning commissioners that the applicant needed to go through the process of securing a certificate of appropriateness.

“We think historic districts are important for the development of downtown,” said Don Davis of RHDC.

Jenny Harper, a resident of an adjoining neighborhood, talked about similar concerns, saying that the project represented the “slow creep of downtown” and that if this were to be approved, “there will always be a justifiable project to demolish historic development.”

Planning commission members were mostly undecided about the case, noting that it had a great deal of support within the community but that it would set a precedent that would allow for the repeal of historic districts for the density of downtown developments.

Steven Schuster said he would not recommend approval of the rezoning. “I like this project. I like the use. I like the partnerships. At the same time, it causes me considerable concern.”

This property on Lenoir Street was built in 1909

Wake County

This property on Lenoir Street was built in 1909

Mitch Fluhrer was the lone planning commission member that said he was recommending approval. He said in a phone interview that sometimes new historic overlay districts undergo modifications and that the support from the General Baptist State Convention and Shaw University was a factor in his decision.

“I thought the developers did a really good job in bringing together different parts of the community,” he said.

10 thoughts on “Rezoning Case Could Create “Open Season” On Historic Districts

  1. How is this a historic district, and how is it the “slow creep of downtown?” It is literally kitty-corner from Charter Square and next to a McDonalds. Is the ugly, one story brick office building something future generations will want to have preserved? We are talking about a perfect use for the site: more, badly needed hotel rooms; the current tenants are going to be able to stay; it increases density and transforms an unengaging and underutilized space; and the nearby university students will benefit as well. Sometimes I really don’t understand this city…

  2. @ Jeff: I completely agree with you! I honestly can not believe that you Mr. Schuster would vote against this rezoning! It is city leaders like you that will keep Raleigh from reaching it’s potential! Chris, Please forward these comments to Mr. Schuster. Thank You for this article so we are aware of what is really going on with some of our city leaders! Dwight Nipper

  3. Chris: I owe Mr. Schuster a apology! I believe that Mr. Schuster has made some great decisions in the past on approving great projects for our downtown. I was wrong on saying that he is not a good leader. I do believe just as strongly that Mr. Schuster made a BAD DECISION on voting no on the rezoning of the 12 story hotel on S. Wilmington St. It was a heat of the moment thing for me! Man, I love downtown Raleigh & all of the growth! Dwight Nipper

  4. @jeff Perfectly said… How are those two buildings of any “historic value” The Baptist Convention Bldg is an eyesore as much as the McDonald’s next to it. Even the owner’s of that know better to build anew. Then to call a early 20th century house historical is a joke. To even consider moving them to another site is a wasted effort. Nice job helping downtown southern gateway grow up.

  5. @Jeff @Dwight @Russ – Thank you for your comments. I think this case is less about the actual buildings in question, as even the General Baptist State Convention wants a new headquarters. From Schuster’s perspective, if we repeal the historic overlay district for a development, then it sets a precedent for doing it again. Most of the planning commission members were torn by this project. It has incredible value if it goes through – a new hotel, new headquarters for the General Baptist State Convention, and ties to Shaw University for their business program – but that precedent…. They’re all kind of sitting and mulling it right now. We’ll have an article for you when they meet again, which is in June. It’ll be interesting to see which way they go. It’s also open to the public, if you want to make your thoughts known then.

  6. Thanks Chris for your comment! I have just e-mailed Steven Schuster on this rezoning request for 603 S. Wilmington St./S. Lenior St. project. If anyone else would like to e-mail Mr. Schuster, his e-mail is steven.schuster@raleighnc.gov .

  7. Chris, The e-mail to Steven Schuster bounced & did not go thru! Sorry, I tried!
    Dwight Nipper

  8. For the record. I agree with everything Jeff stated. I was so upset when I read it, that I left out the most important word( you)