WakeUP and Explore: 2017 City Livability Tour is on April 29

Whiskey Kitchen on Martin Street

Whiskey Kitchen on Martin Street, an example of adaptive reuse

On Saturday, April 29, WakeUP Wake County is hosting their 3rd annual livability tour with stops all over the southern parts of downtown Raleigh. The “go at your own pace” tour will have stops at a lot of the projects we talk about here on the blog including Union Station, The Dillon, Hargett Place, and Charter Square among others. The tour also highlights some reuse examples in retail and food as well as affordable housing.

You can get your tickets early for a discount and all proceeds go towards supporting the work of WakeUP Wake County, “a non-profit that leads public engagement on issues important to our quality of life: transportation, affordable housing, land use, water quality and education.”

WakeUP and Explore: 2017 City Livability Tour

Date/Time: Sat., Apr. 29 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Map pick up starts @ 12:30pm)
Pick up pin, map, and swag at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
919.828.3833

Pic of the Week

Hargett Place, April 2017

The first wave of townhomes at Hargett Place are almost finished. Lined up on Bloodworth Street, shown above, these units are being shown to potential residents now and more units are coming together on East Street.

The City Is looking for Innovative Ideas for Idea Raleigh Competition

Quick post today. No more sitting back and wishing. Submit your ideas over at: idea.raleighnc.gov.

A Walk Around The Dillon

The Dillon, April 2017

Corner of Martin and Harrington Streets, April 2017.

Complementing my post earlier in the week about Raleigh Union Station, I also got a feel for the area around The Dillon and snapped some photos of the current progress. It’s going to be quite the “shot in the arm” for the warehouse district once both of these projects are up in running.

Starting at the southern end along Martin Street, the 17-story office tower and parking deck are rising up out of the former Dillon Supply warehouse.

My guess would be that the parking deck construction is trying to coincide with the Union Station opening. Residential and office may come online later but again, just a guess as the city pushed hard for nearby parking options for the station.

The Dillon, April 2017

The old windows along Martin showing the new structure within.

The Dillon, April 2017

Corner of West and Martin Streets, April 2017.

The greatest transformation may take place down Martin at West. New development seems to be taking place at almost every corner.

Seeing The Dillon on this side gives you a sense of how connected The Dillon and the station are to each other. The office tower here with ground-floor retail should create a sense of energy to those coming to or leaving the train station. You can see the city skyline in the short distance but feel that you are close with The Dillon across the street.

I’d be interested to see if West and Martin will be getting proper crosswalks with street lights. The sidewalks should be completely redone so a once sleepy dead end may be drastically changed in the near future.

The Dillon, April 2017

Staring south down West at Hargett Street, April 2017.

Around West and Hargett Streets, the residential portions of The Dillon are beginning to start. The main section south of Hargett has the bottom floor built up with the northern side showing wood-built apartments on the second floor.

Hargett is blocked to traffic right now due to the construction but there is room to walk through. Seeing steel floors on both sides of Hargett where surface parking used to be is pretty exciting, I have to admit.

The Dillon, April 2017

Staring east down Hargett Street, April 2017.

The Dillon, April 2017

Staring west down Hargett Street, April 2017.

The Dillon is a project that will activate Hargett and Martin Streets. The concentration of retail along these corridors helps to support planning efforts within our current downtown plan. With these blocks active, this will pave the way to string more blocks together along Hargett and Martin.

This is indeed a fun project to follow.

Scoping Out Raleigh Union Station

Raleigh Union Station, April 2017

I walked around West and Martin Streets this weekend to check out Raleigh Union Station. Photos are great but walking the area gives you a sense that it is coming together and you can feel how you’ll interact with the new train station once it is open. (as much as the construction fences would allow anyway)

Today’s update shows the entrance to the station at the end of Martin Street at West. The metal awning (better name?) is up, shown above, and to the right will be the pedestrian plaza. Currently a parking lot for heavy equipment, you can sneak a glance at the space and how it will become the gateway in and out of the city through the station.

Here, pedestrians will go underneath some train tracks and then back up into the station.

Raleigh Union Station, April 2017

To the left is the street entrance for vehicles to go through, leading up to a roundabout for easy drop off/pick up. You can see the new train “bridge” that was built in order to have all the entrances separated from the tracks of the Boylan Wye. Similar to the pedestrian entrance, vehicles will go underneath the tracks, the “bridge” that was added here.

Raleigh Union Station, April 2017

Finally, the end of West Street is a massive hole, going below grade in order to turn under the same tracks of the Boylan Wye in order to loop back into the roundabout. Those last few warehouses look so isolated in the photo below. I wonder if they will last much longer?

West Street at Martin, April 2017

Here are a few renderings and maps to show what is being worked on today along West Street.

Raleigh Union Station rendering

Raleigh Union Station rendering

Raleigh Union Station map

Click for larger

A Peek Inside Google Fiber’s New Shop in Glenwood South

Email readers: This blog post has a virtual reality image. Read the post on the blog to see it.

I recently had a meeting that was held over at Google’s new shop on Glenwood and took a VR photo inside the new space for the blog. There’s a lot of hype about this new space with lines around the block to get in on First Fridays, tons of curious visitors, and even some getting their wedding photos taken inside.

Personally, I don’t get the hype but as an event space, it does look quite well done for a store that has no physical products to walk out with.

The Missing Middle Housing Around Downtown Raleigh

Land being cleared along New Bern Avenue. March 2017.

Land being cleared along New Bern Avenue. March 2017.

Just outside of downtown is an interesting project that I’ve been following. It delves into the affordable housing discussion a bit as well as showing our council’s interest in the topic.

To be clear, and try to keep things consistent, I like to separate two types of housing with regards to affordability. The first is affordable housing, that being government-subsidized housing. The second being housing that is affordable. This one consists of housing that is relatively lower than comparable supply nearby. The latter is mainly what this post is about.

Raleigh should be striving for housing prices that offer choices to all levels of the socioeconomic scale.

New Townhomes are Being Built Today

With that said, today, land is being cleared to make way for a new set of townhomes along the 500 block of New Bern Avenue. This is right across the street from the New Bern entrance to City Cemetery. Previously, the land contained zero buildings and some of it was surface parking.

The project is called 10 Arros and offers luxury, high-end units with prices starting around $485K. There will be ten, three-story units evenly divided across two buildings.

If you’re a regular reader, townhomes like this aren’t anything new, right? This project has a longer history though and it’s worth posting here in full as a bullet point in Raleigh’s “housing that is affordable” conversation.

Rolling back to 2016, plans to combine a few parcels together along New Bern Avenue were submitted to the city to build two-story townhomes. The plan was for a total of 10 units divided evenly between two buildings. A parking lot would be built behind the units who would have front doors facing the sidewalk.

Here is the location of the project then; it is the same location now.

Map of New Bern Avenue

500 block of New Bern Avenue. Image from Google Maps. Click for larger or jump to Google Maps here.

The developer, Stuart Cullinan with Five Horizons Development, wanted to target starting families with these townhomes. During a South Central CAC meeting that I attended, he reported that the townhomes would cost in the low $300k range. I have emailed with Cullinan about the project a few times in 2016.

While $300k-$350k is not a price point that exists for minimum wage workers, it does go against the trend of new single-family homes being built in this same area. New construction homes in East Raleigh in 2016 were being priced throughout the $400K-$500k range. A few were lower, and a few higher but that has been my experience as a resident in this area.

The Ten at Person Street townhomes

The Ten townhomes, located on Person Street.

In my opinion, I consider Cullinan’s proposal as affordable. This is very similar to the townhome project on Person Street called The Ten, which we’ve covered here on the blog.

The Ten had units priced around $300k. Naturally, they were bought up very fast.

Welcome to the NCOD

Going back to Cullinan’s project on New Bern, there’s a small catch with the location of the property that limits what his company can do. It is located in the New Bern-Edenton Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD for short) and the type of townhomes proposed are not allowed.

You can dive more into NCODs here on the city’s website. The New Bern-Edenton NCOD was formed in 1992, a result of a revitalization plan for the area that was worked the previous year. Basically, the intent was to encourage home ownership rather than a high rate of rentals and boarding houses, a big concern at that time..

Here’s where it starts to get tricky and if any readers in real estate are out there, I’m opening up this post to you to explain this in greater detail, with credit.

Map of New Bern-Edenton NCOD

Map of New Bern-Edenton NCOD. Townhome project is highlighted in orange. Click for larger.

The NCOD’s regulations, particularly minimum lot size, 4,000 sq. ft., and minimum lot frontage, 30 feet, basically make it impossible for a fee simple townhome ownership structure to exist. Only condominium ownership can exist under those regulations. A report from the city (source #1) explains it further:

It is important to note that a building form that looks like a typical townhouse could be built today under the NCOD regulations. The key difference is the ownership structure; to meet the minimum lot size of 4,000 square feet and minimum lot frontage of 30 feet, the townhouses would be required to have a condominium ownership structure instead of fee simple ownership. Fee simple means that the property owner would have absolute ownership over both the building and the land underneath i.e., each townhouse would be on its own lot. Condominium ownership means that the property owner holds title only to the air space or building itself, not the land underneath.

The report goes on to say that the built character of the neighborhood today is very consistent with the regulations of the NCOD. No townhomes exist within this NCOD however they are not disallowed. It’s that ownership model that presents a bit of a problem.

Mr. Cullinan, who is also a resident within the NCOD, requested a text change to better align with fee simple townhome ownership. Presented as a compromise, the proposal would affect a subsection of the NCOD, mainly along New Bern Avenue and Edenton Street.

Map of New Bern-Edenton NCOD with townhome study area

Map of New Bern-Edenton NCOD with townhome study area. Townhome project is highlighted in orange. Text change only affects area in yellow. Click for larger.

To the best of my knowledge, a fee simple ownership model allows for cheaper units. Compared to a condominium model, fee simple allows for less overhead and a different financing scheme, which keeps cost down. (Here’s where I’m looking for elaboration from our real estate readers.)

Now comes the fun part. Getting this approved.

The For, The Against, and the Council

We have a few players here in the NCOD including:

In a June 14, 2016 Raleigh Planning Commission meeting, the text change was under discussion and ultimately passed with a 7-2 vote. The text change now moved on for council approval. Meeting minutes of that planning commission meeting are linked to at the bottom of this post.

The Sept 6, 2016 council video is one to watch for yourself as Cullinan, well Cullinan’s lawyer, makes the case for the text change, along with dozens of residents in and near the NCOD who came out in support of it.

At the same time, those previously mentioned were there against the text change. If the video doesn’t show for you, watch it here on YouTube.

I know it’s almost an hour long but I consider this an important watch for any civic geeks who are reading. We have long established community leaders and historic preservationists up against a new Raleigh citizen that’s looking for something different. Here’s my rundown, with highlights, of the video for those in a hurry.

After that hearing, the council took it up for discussion.

Council Discussion Summary

To summarize, the council was squeamish on this one and seemed to have a problem with the way a change to an NCOD is taking place. They even had to ask if Cullinan followed the city’s process to apply for this change. It was followed correctly and the council recognized they had issue with that process itself.

Councilor Stephenson showed his concern over this text change and recommended an individual rezoning that was supported by only the immediate neighbors rather than a broad change affecting more than 100 properties. A conditional-use rezoning on the property itself would be better, in his opinion, rather than a large area change.

When Councilor Cox asked a question to staff about how a different NCOD came to be, among other info, it was stated that 51% of the property owners had to approve a rezoning for the NCOD to take affect.

The council then seemed to get hung up on the 51% figure. Councilor Baldwin proposed deferring the entire case so that Cullinan can get 51% show of support, from within the NCOD, before approving the text change.

The rest of the council didn’t buy it and instead denied it in a 5-3 vote. The motion was to deny the text change so the breakdown was:

Final Thoughts

After this, the affordable housing advocates may have felt that they won. Neighborhood protection advocates also may have felt they won with Oakwood stating on their website:

We feel the right decision was made. Some of the reasons cited included: the change being initiated by a developer and not residents, parsing out a subsection of the NCOD for the change, pursuing a change for the entire NCOD as opposed to a specific parcel, and the precedent of chipping away at long established NCODs. Additionally, we are pleased because by not changing the lot width from 30ft to 16ft, we avoid the potential risk of tear downs of historic properties not protected by historic district designation.

*New Bern-Edenton NCOD Text Change Request Denied

Fast forward to today and modern townhomes with a higher price tag are being built on the property along New Bern.

Why do I feel like we missed something here?

It’s as if government-subsided, below market rate housing is acceptable as well as high-priced new construction that “maintains character” but nothing in between.

The change was to allow a different ownership model, not building type. Instead of fee simple townhomes, we now have condominium townhomes. I don’t know the intricacies of the differences but by fighting against this change, you’re supporting a higher priced product in today’s market.

I don’t have the experience or training to be able to think what the change might have caused. There may have been unintended consequences if the text change took place. We may never know unless we try.

However, we now have a real-world example of our city shooting down private sector attempts to fill the “missing middle” housing in Raleigh.

As a side note, this isn’t Cullinan’s first attempt. You should look into his other project, 1335 Courtland, which was shot down by the Mordecai neighborhood. Read more about that on the Raleigh Public Record.

At the end of the day though, the 10 Arros project is the path of least resistance. I place no blame on the developer. I applaud him for all the work he’s done to present this issue and make some noise about it.

To just work within the limitations of regulations presented to you seems easy. To go against it means you have to herd cats and that is awfully time-consuming.

Putting politics to the side, the impact of ten units priced near half-a-million dollars may not seem like much but as more continue to pop up onesie-twosie, downtown loses more of its mixed-income character and limits access to those that can’t afford it.

Is that the downtown we’ve planned for?

Sources:

  1. Built Environmental Characteristics and Regulations Report – New Bern – Edenton
  2. Raleigh Planning Commission Meeting Minutes for June 14, 2016

The Metropolitan is Lost in Overnight Fire

East Raleigh view of fire

Not much to say here about the fire that took place this weekend. The Metropolitan apartments had just recently topped out and is now burnt to a crisp. Nearby buildings including the Quorum Center and The Link apartments suffered damage as well.

Above is the view from East Raleigh, about 12 blocks away. See the local news networks for more but it is great to hear that there were no life-threatening injuries.

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