At Tuesday’s public hearings session, the city council of Raleigh approved the rezoning of a property within the Prince Hall historic overlay district, removing the historic designation and making way for a 12-story hotel.
The case involved a .5 acre parcel zoned neighborhood business with downtown overlay and historic overlay. The proposed rezoning to downtown mixed use with a 12-story height cap came at the request of the applicant, who wouldn’t be able to build as tall of a hotel if the historic overlay district was maintained.
Although the Central Citizens Advisory Council voted unanimously in favor of the rezoning, an unusual move for the neighborhood, the planning commission was split 5-3 in recommending approval, as commissioners debated whether removing the historic overlay district would set a precedent for future rezoning cases in the city.
In a planning commission meeting, chairman Steven Schuster, who voted against recommending the case for approval, said that approval of the rezoning would create an “open season” on the city of Raleigh’s historic districts. But another aspect that had commissioners conflicted was the strong partnerships in the community for the rezoning.
United Community Advocates for Rezoning
The .5 acre site is home to two buildings that had served as the General Baptist State Convention (GBSC) headquarters since the 1960s. Haywood Gray, the executive secretary-treasurer for the GBSC, joked that the headquarters was state of the art in the 1960s with manual typewriters, carbon paper, and dual plugs in every room.
Part of the proposal of the applicant for the rezoning was to provide a modern headquarters for the GBSC. Gray underscored the need for a modern headquarters that would provide the GBSC opportunity to continue to grow in its ministry. Others in the GBSC in attendance at the public hearing echoed his thoughts.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for headquarters we can be proud of,” William Newkirk, pastor member of the GBSC, said.
Lonnette Williams, chair of the Central CAC, said the community viewed the rezoning was an opportunity for economic development within the neighborhood and an opportunity for revitalization.
Tashni-Ann Dubroy, president of Shaw University, also spoke in favor of the rezoning. The new hotel would offer Shaw students opportunity for internships, she said, which would further the education of her students.
Raleigh Historic Development Commission Voices Opposition
Two representatives from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission spoke out against the rezoning. They stated that the Prince Hall historic overlay district was very young and had been passed by some members of the council itself. They explained the importance of historic preservation, especially within the only African American historic district in Raleigh.
Mack Paul, representing the applicant, said the two houses that served as the GBSC headquarters would be moved to a site within the district on another set of property.
When the item was brought back to the table for discussion, councilor Weeks said they had heard from the community and made a motion to approve. After a brief discussion, the rezoning was approved unanimously.