Downtown Developer Greg Hatem on Downtown Vibrancy

Sidewalks of Fayetteville Street in the Spring

At last week’s city council meeting, Greg Hatem, owner of Empire Properties and Empire Eats, stood up and shared some thoughts. He had a few things to say about our city’s vibrancy and the ongoing discussions with the outdoor amplified sound permitting. Here’s the video of Mr. Hatem’s comments and the following council discussion.


If the embedded video doesn’t work for you, click here.

First, the downtown vibrancy piece. According to a yet unpublished study by the University of North Carolina Planning School, “Raleigh is in the bottom 20% of vibrant communities” in the nation. That statement is definitely something to follow up on.

The most obvious question to see in the study is whether this is only referring to the downtown or the city as a whole. Clearly, if the entire city was included then I don’t feel there’s too much of a shock here. More information is needed as to the study’s metrics.

Next, the ongoing debate over outdoor amplified sound permits. There are currently six restaurants and bars in the Fayetteville Street district that have applied for these permits. Hatem’s comments suggest a larger “issue” that the Fayetteville Street area is basically becoming a party district, where trash, bodily fluids, and signs of partying linger. His discussion of downtown vibrancy suggest that what’s needed are less bars but more retail and a downtown grocery store.

The complaints about more outdoor sound permits may be premature as the city is currently running a pilot program for addressing the very same issue over in Glenwood South. Rather than more restrictions, the Glenwood South Neighborhood Collaborative has helped launch the Glenwood South Hospitality District. This pilot runs through November 30, 2015 and attempts to create more synergy between residents and business owners when complaints come up. We should wait and see the results of this program before we start restricting things in other districts.

I think Hatem’s points are fair though. I’ve walked downtown Raleigh on Sunday mornings and some of the sidewalks really do look hungover. There are lots of opinions here but for me, it’s just a cleanliness issue, and only on the weekends.

Again, this may seem a moot point because there were discussions between the council and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) in 2014 about increasing the resources put toward safety and cleanliness in downtown. I point you to a budget note from the DRA asking the city manager for more funding for the issue.

At the June 2, 2014 Budget work session, Council members discussed the safety and appearance of downtown Raleigh. Council Member Crowder asked that the Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) review its budget to determine if funding could be reallocated to provide additional cleaning and safety efforts in downtown. Council Member Baldwin commented on the lack of cleanliness in city parking decks.

It’s all growing pains for sure as businesses and residents haven’t lived this close together in this city for decades because of our now growing, attractive, and revitalizing downtown. The currently in-progress Downtown Experience Plan may help to address these concerns by providing a more mix of uses in downtown.

Municipography – Stone’s Warehouse and Plaza Upgrades

Stone's Warehouse on East Davie Street

Municipography is a summary of current issues going through the Raleigh City Council and other municipal departments in the city. The point is to try to deliver any video, photos, and text associated with the discussions happening at City Hall or elsewhere. Since this is a downtown Raleigh blog, the focus is on the center of the city.

I recommend email readers click through to the website to see the embedded video.

At this week’s city council meeting, progress was made to two very interesting projects. The overhaul of Market and Exchange Plazas was approved and money will be spent to start construction. The city owned Stone’s Warehouse and nearby buildings should be sold soon to Transfer Company LLC, who want to renovate the building, add more space, and include townhomes on the site.

Market and Exchange Plaza

Watch the video snippet above. If it doesn’t work for you, click here.

From the agenda:

On December 12, 2014 formal bids were opened to perform improvements to Market Plaza and Exchange Plaza; each plaza provides pedestrian access between Fayetteville and Wilmington streets. The project involves renovations and improvements to both plazas, which are in varying states of disrepair. Improvements include the installation of new concrete unit pavers, concrete paving, seat walls, planting, site lighting, storm water drainage, electrical service, water service, irrigation, screen enclosures, and shade structures.

A total of four bids were received. The lowest bid was submitted by Holt Brothers Construction, LLC in the amount of $1,129,897. Funding is appropriated in the capital budget and will be transferred administratively. SDMWOB participation is 100%.
Recommendation: Authorize the City Manager to execute a contract with Holt Brothers Construction, LLC in an amount not to exceed $1,129,897

Council members continuously made comments about how they didn’t know about this project but there have been images, plans, and public meetings about it for about a year now. We’ve discussed it on the blog already and it’s great to see this plaza project move to the next step.

I am pretty sure that this project will then wipe out any last remnants of the previous Fayetteville Street Mall design that is still left from the 1970s. Go get a taste of it, if you want, before it’s gone.

Stone’s Warehouse

Watch the video snippet above. If it doesn’t work for you, click here.

From the agenda:

During the January 6, 2015 Council meeting, the Budget and Economic Development Committee presented the following recommendation:

The Committee recommends upholding staff’s recommendation to select Transfer Company, LLC for the redevelopment of the Stone’s Warehouse site, authorizing Community Development to coordinate preparation of a purchase agreement, and authorizing staff to amend zoning application Z-25-14 to include split zoning, with conditions to accommodate the proposed uses as proposed by Transfer Company, LLC. The Committee’s recommendation was with the understanding that a majority of the proceeds from the disposition of the property would go toward development of affordable housing in this area and to assist with the Rex Senior Center relocation.

After discussion on the future of the Rex Senior Center, it was directed that the item be placed on this agenda and that administration work with the parties involved to determine Transfer Company, LLC’s proposal for the Rex Senior Center. A memorandum from staff outlining the discussion is included with the agenda packet.

Council can take action to proceed with the recommendation as outlined by the Budget and Economic Development Committee.

The ongoing conversation here is how to move the Rex Senior Health Center but that didn’t stop council from approving the Budget and Economic Development Committee’s recommendation for city staff to start work on selling the property to Transfer Companny, LLC. Another council approval will be needed for the sale to take place.

For some more reading on this project, check out Stone’s Warehouse and Affordable Housing

Multiple Rezoning Requests on the Table

Dillon Supply Company in downtown Raleigh's Warehouse District

There’s a nice cluster of rezoning requests at the city right now that could bring new development to where there is currently none or very little existing activity. The RalCon commenters have been all over it recently so I wanted to bring it up top for more exposure.

Rezoning requests don’t sound exciting but it does fuel the rumor mill. While I enjoy speculation at a “for entertainment purposes only” approach I think we should lay out what’s on the table and what the comprehensive plan says about these areas.

To date, none of the requests discussed here have been approved or denied. They have only been submitted.

301 Hillsborough Street and 320 W. Morgan Street

Case number Z-038-14 has been discussed on the blog before. It’s the site of the parking lot used by Campbell Law school along Dawson Street between Morgan and Hillsborough Street. If you need a refesher, we talked about it back in October of 2014.

The request is for a DX-20-SH. In short, that means Downtown Mixed Use zoning with a 20 story max height and a shopfront frontage.

The latest update on this rezoning request is that there are some big projects being discussed behind closed doors. The N&O writes:

The city government has been entertaining at least two “substantial and serious offers” from private developers for the 1.2-acre property. Now the city has moved to apply a new set of development rules to the land, potentially clearing the way for a private construction project.

*Raleigh files to allow 20-story buildings at 301 Hillsborough St.

On the opposite side of the coin, there are a group of residents that are against the rezoning. The Central CAC has voted against this rezoning in a recent meeting. The article also states that The Dawson residents are against the rezoning and instead want the height to be capped at 7 stories instead of 20.

The last piece of this story that I’ll share is what the comprehensive plan says about this area. Here are quotes from it that seem relevant.

Reinforce the William Christmas Plan by encouraging prominent buildings and uses to be developed along axial streets (i.e. Hillsborough, Fayetteville, and New Bern) and the squares. (1, 3, 4, 6)

Highest density development should occur along the axial streets (Hillsborough Street, Fayetteville Street and New Bern Avenue), major streets (as identified by the Street plan), surrounding the squares, and within close proximity to planned transit stations.

327 & 309 Hillsborough Street and 324 & 328 W. Morgan Street

Case Z-39-14 is right next door and is for the same DX-20-SH zoning. This would be the western half of the same block that has 301 Hillsborough mainly along Harrington Street.

This seems like the same story as before. The same height concerns are mentioned by the residents at The Dawson. The same comprehensive plan applies to this lot as does 301 Hillsborough.

603 S. Wilmington Street and 112 & 114 E. Lenoir Street

Moving off Hillsborough Street, case Z-42-14, is a request for a DX-12-UG-CU zoning. If you’re following along, that’s downtown mixed-use at 12 story maximum with an urban general frontage, conditional use. An urban general frontage means that while the building is up against the sidewalk, ground floor retail space may or may not be there. It allows for walk up townhomes, an office lobby, or something similar.

The property in question here is where the Baptist Headquarters Building is located next to the McDonald’s facing Wilmington Street. According to the TBJ article, plans for a hotel are in the works and the rezoning would allow it to be as tall as 12 stories.

A hotel developer has submitted plans with the city to rezone a piece of property within the Prince Hall Historic District in downtown Raleigh for a hotel and office building that could stretch as high as 12 stories tall.

*New 12-story hotel proposed for downtown Raleigh

Taking a look at the comprehensive plan, this area seems to have the same density and urban core concepts as the rest of downtown. Close by is the start of an identified transition area, one that steps down towards the nearby neighborhoods.

The image below shows a piece of the map whereby the areas in blue have been identified as transitional. The map is just a guide however and with it being in a historic district I bet this topic gets heated.

401, 403 & 406 W. Hargett Street, 223 S. West Street, 410 W. Martin Street, & 126, 210 & 218 S. Harrington Street

Case Z-1-15 involves quite a few properties in the warehouse district near Union Station. This request is for DX-20-CU, downtown mixed use at 20 stories maximum, conditional use. The grandest building here is the Dillon Supply Warehouse, pictured at the top of this post, which is a real cornerstone of our warehouse district in terms of size and potential.

Just like the other areas mentioned in this post, this area again is identified as needing high-intensity development as it is in the downtown.

The developer here seems to be Kane Realty Corp, the group behind North Hills. If you take a look at the zoning request the “neighborhood” meeting was held up at the North Hills offices with only 4 Raleighites attending.

The writing is on the wall that the city wants this area to be hugely successful due to the upcoming Raleigh Union Station project. (set to break ground in less than 10 weeks) If you attended enough of the Union Station meetings, there is also another component that is seen as hugely needed adjacent to Union Station. Lots of new parking was seen as a huge need here and I wouldn’t be surprised if a big parking deck component is put in this area to accommodate that.

Pic of the Week

The Devon Apartments on Tucker Street

The Devon apartments on Tucker Street has finished construction and is now leasing out units. The building took almost three years to complete and when compared to similar projects, that is much slower. However, when watching it go up the big difference you notice is the use of concrete floors compared to wood. I imagine that makes a difference in quality as well as longevity of the building.

Skyhouse Raleigh One Year Later

The Skyhouse Raleigh apartment building that broke ground about a year ago is set to open in March of 2015. I remember taking a photo of the crane one year ago so am revisiting the site today. Weather was similar too.

Skyhouse Raleigh, photo taken in December 2013

Skyhouse Raleigh, photo taken in December 2013

Skyhouse Raleigh, photo taken in December 2014

Skyhouse Raleigh, photo taken in December 2014

Stone’s Warehouse and Affordable Housing

Stone's Warehouse

Stone’s Warehouse, photo taken December 2014

Just outside of downtown Raleigh is a site that’s getting a lot of attention lately. The block containing what is called Stone’s Warehouse at 500 East Davie Street could see a major renovation and new development in the near future.

This city-owned property could be sold soon and transformed into a destination for a mix of uses. I wanted to introduce this project as well as dive into the current topic of affordable housing, a criteria the city has listed for potential developers of the site to comply with.

Stone’s Warehouse
An old bus repair shop, the warehouse has been around since about the mid-1920s. The Carolina Coach Garage and Shop outgrew the space and moved out in 1939. After a variety of uses, it was eventually acquired by the city in 2001 and has been empty since.

View on Google Maps

In addition to the empty warehouse, the site also includes the currently open Rex Senior Health Center. The parking lot and some open land rounds out the rest of the site.

The city has slowly acquired the majority of the block, not including a few houses on the southern end. They intend to use it for community development and have put the site up for sale to developers. A long list of criteria has been put together and today we have three developers in the running for the sale of the site based on their proposals.

According to an article in the N&O, here are some of the details of each plan:

As of this writing, Raleigh city staff and the Budget and Economic Development (BED) Committee recommend that the proposal by Transfer Company LLC be selected for the site.

For more reading see these articles:

Affordable Housing and the Scattered Site Policy
The most controversial and discussed topic with Stone’s Warehouse, and sometimes with downtown Raleigh in general, seems to be the affordable housing topic. Take note that the BED committee recommended a plan that does not include affordable housing.

I think we first have to recognize that the term “affordable housing” means different things to various people. The first place I looked for a definition is our city’s adopted 2030 Comprehensive Plan which explains it nicely.

The terms “affordable housing” and “workforce housing” mean different things to different people, and a variety of definitions have been advanced by various groups. For the purposes of this plan, housing is “affordable” if the cost of occupying it does not consume more than 30 percent of household income—the definition promulgated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD defines housing costs as contract rent plus utilities for renters, and monthly payment (mortgage plus taxes and insurance) for owners. Affordable housing refers to housing affordable to households with incomes at or below 80 percent of the HUD-estimated Area Median Income (AMI) for owners, and 60 percent for renters. Workforce housing is generally thought of as housing affordable to essential public- and service-sector employees such as teachers, fire fighters and nurses. It is defined here as housing affordable to households with incomes up to 120 percent of AMI. As of February 2012, the HUD-determined AMI for a family of four in Raleigh is $79,900.

I hear a lot of commenters on this blog, people around town, in the media, all over say that affordable housing is important. But which one do they actually mean? We have:

Both may or may not be related. The housing section of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan has a lot more on this and should be your next stop for more information.

Now that we’ve defined affordable housing, what about policies that help guide where affordable housing should be placed in the city? The City of Raleigh’s Scattered Site Policy was created to help guide this. It identifies high and low priority areas where affordable housing is needed. It is a guide in order to avoid clustering too much affordable housing in one area.

As recently as early 2014, the policy was under review. The Raleigh Public Record has a write up, including a map, about the conversations that took place.

Areas of the city are broken up into four priorities: Priority One being areas are those that lack affordable housing; Priority Four areas have heavy concentrations of low-income and minority residents.

*Council Wants More Data for Affordable Housing Policy

*NOTE: As of this writing, the page on the city’s website for the policy has been taken down and I can’t find the policy listed.

The Scattered Site Policy is mentioned several times in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Updates to it should certainly be looked at but following it is a strong recommendation of the plan.

How is Raleigh Doing?
We have some figures here in order to make some generalizations. Using the 2012 data point of $79,900 AMI for a Raleigh family of four, we have:

I see this as kind of a range here in order to give us some context with the definition of what is and isn’t affordable. At the same time though, more detail is probably needed to account for taxes and of course everyone’s situation is different. 30% of the $79,900 figure is $23,970, or $1997.50 a month. Is the message that a $1900 a month mortgage payment is affordable to a family of four pulling in $79,900? More details are definitely needed. (for a follow up post perhaps)

When it comes to the locations of affordable housing in Raleigh, there is some data available showing the mapped locations. I’ve had a list of sites in Raleigh which include Raleigh Housing Authority developments, HUD subsidized projects, and NC Housing Finance Agency projects. I went ahead and mapped them which you can see below.

NOTE: Data is dated December 2013. City-owned rentals are not included in this map. Some projects may also be paid off and are no longer considered affordable.

Another map to show is this one below, showing subsidized affordable rentals on top of the scattered site policy. This map is dated December 2013 and shows the entire city. For finer viewing, I recommend downloading the pdf.

2013 Raleigh Scattered Site Policy map

Click for larger. Download the pdf for even larger.

So with all this presented, here is the controversy. The adopted Scattered Site Policy is not being followed. The maps show a higher concentration of affordable housing projects in the low priority areas and very few units in high priority areas.

For Raleigh to be a diverse city with as much equal access across a variety of socioeconomic lines, a quality of a true 21st-century city by the way, communities of mixed-income must exist.

Adding market rate housing to an area of low-income is not something that should be avoided especially when it isn’t displacing anyone. Adding affordable housing to an area where there is little or none (priority 1) should be the bigger priority and real controversy.

How can Raleigh find the discipline to push against the trend as the city council approves again and again more affordable housing in priority 3 and 4 areas of Raleigh?

Back to Stone’s Warehouse

Let’s swing back to Stone’s Warehouse.

There’s a strong argument for the need for more housing that is affordable in our city. The comprehensive plan proves the demand and how the amount of residents burdened by housing costs has been rising over the last few decades.

However, demanding that affordable housing be included with all projects at the expense of nearby incomes is short-sighted. To create truly mixed-use, mixed-income communities Raleigh should place higher priority on delivering services, amenities that don’t exist.

Stone's Warehouse on Davie Street

That’s not a blanket statement, sure, but let me paraphrase a woman I heard at a South Central CAC meeting that stood up and kindly commented about the Stone’s Warehouse presentation.

More housing? I feel like we’ve got plenty of housing. We need retail and economic development in our neighborhood.

Stone’s Warehouse is in the middle of a sea of affordable housing projects. It’s also in the middle of a food desert. With a potential grocery store at the site, it’s possible nearby residents would benefit from access to healthy food, a close location, and possibly a nearby job.

With the warehouse being saved, the project should draw huge respect from the neighborhood for the efforts to save the history. Economic development could bring an even more impactful benefit compared to affordable housing at Stone’s Warehouse. Let’s not let a hot, politically-charged topic sway the real need in this location.

Holiday 2014 Open Thread

There has been plenty of conversation about a variety of topics lately and I try and group them together to relevant posts on the blog. For this week, I’m throwing up an anything goes post as we wind down to the end of the year.

Recent interesting downtown Raleigh news:

You know the year is almost over in Raleigh when…..

A photo posted by Leo Suarez (@dtraleigh) on

Pic of the Week

The Ten
Wood framing is being put up for the townhomes called The Ten. Located at the corner of Person and Lenoir Streets, they are building 10 units here.

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