Charter Square South Tower Groundbreaking

Charter Square construction site

It was about 11 months ago that an announcement by Dominion Realty Partners stated that they were bringing the first of two towers to the Charter Square site on the south end of Fayetteville Street. Yesterday, the “groundbreaking” took place for that building.

I say “groundbreaking” because this site doesn’t have any dirt that needs to be worked on. The Charter Square site is over an underground parking deck so parking is ready to go.

Expect to watch construction on this LEED Platinum tower up until around Summer 2015.

Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver Taking Job in New York City

Congratulations to Mitchell Silver on the new job. Raleigh has accomplished a lot while he was here.

What’s next for Raleigh planning?

Parking Decks and The Warehouse District

Citrix parking deck under construction

At the corner of Morgan and West Streets, the parking deck for the new Citrix offices has been rising for the past few months. The warehouse renovation into offices next door has pretty much taken shape, creating four floors for downtown’s newest, major tenant.

Any old parking deck that’s being built is usually not an interesting thing to most but this specific one has something here. It may be the elevation or the relative buildings around it but this deck just seems ominous and big.

There’s a small story here and I’m putting the pieces together each time I walk by the Citrix site. What happens when the next Citrix comes into town? Will more of these decks continue to be built?

If you look deeper behind this parking deck, you may get a glimpse into the future path that the warehouse district is on.

The Upcoming Citrix

Let’s start off by taking the focus off Citrix itself. In an interview with the N&O, Jesse Lipson, starter of ShareFile, now owned by Citrix, tells reporter Bruce Siceloff that they will have about 500 employees when they move into the building in 2014. What is not mentioned is that the parking deck will be built for about 400 cars, something you need to dive into the planning commission meetings to find out.

Citrix should be applauded for providing less car parking than employees. Their company culture encourages alternative transit and the downtown office should bump up the number of those types of commuters. They are also a web-based company and teleworking is a common practice. They are at or near the minimum number of spaces needed according to city code.

Less is More

While this behavior for our downtown sounds good, it could have been even better.

After the start of construction of its downtown site around January 2013, Citrix wanted to expand even more and made plans for an additional floor in the office component. This lead to a conversation during a certain May 28, 2013 planning commission meeting when Citrix applied for approval of that same expansion.

Citrix developers were applying for a 40,000 square foot expansion of office space, what was referred to as ‘Phase 2.’ In addition to approval, they also wanted an exemption to having to raise the number of new parking spaces that would have to go along with the new office space. More office space equals more needed parking, according to zoning.

Before the addition, Citrix was providing 341 spaces where city code required them to be at 325. With the office expansion, code would require them to raise that number to at least 400. Citrix wanted out of that and made an argument why in their presentation before the planning commission.

So to show the numbers clearly:

Here’s the 55-minute planning commission video of that presentation and followup discussion. Watch the first 24 minutes for an overview of the entire project and to get a peak at some of the amenities of the Citrix building.

Municipography – Dillon Supply Warehouse Redevelopment Phase 2 on Youtube

During the presentation, the Citrix reps state such things like:

Currently, 1 parking space per 500 square feet of office space is the code. However, a good point that the Citrix reps make is that the site will have gym and recreation spaces, a lobby, and a large auditorium. The parking count may not have to rise for these amenity spaces and if you subtract them, the actual amount of spaces needed including the new office expansion is now 329. (still below the 341 provided at this point)

This sounds like a great fit for an urban area as the parking needs are smaller than most. These are the types of places that would be great for a transitioning downtown. Employees here don’t punch a clock at 9am and 5pm, contributing to a typical morning and afternoon commute. Activity should be ongoing throughout the day and night around the Citrix offices, supporting that 24-hour downtown that supporters are trying to build.

After the presentation things started to turn.

Deferral

If you want to watch this part, jump to about 24:30 in the video.

A few commissioners expressed concern about the lack of detailed information on how many employees would be on site at a time. Without this detailed information, commissioners could not anticipate any potential problems that, if Citrix was wrong in its parking usage, would permeate out across the warehouse district in the future.

Commissioner Steve Schuster, who by the way is one of the leads at Clearscapes Design Firm and is probably an expert on the warehouse district because of their heavy involvement on Raleigh Union Station, stated, “We’re about to face a parking challenge in the warehouse district.”

Schuster’s thinking was most likely based on ongoing analysis of the entire warehouse district and how development could boom here in the near future. Schuster, with the backing of other commissioners, felt that allowing this parking reduction exemption would set a precedent for future developments here, further exacerbating the parking problem. (the upcoming challenge)

The conclusion to the meeting is that the commission motioned to defer the office expansion so that Citrix could bring back more details on employee counts. They approved the deferral. Remember, this application was for the office expansion but parking dominated the discussion instead.

Citrix reps then, right on the spot, made a move to drop the parking reduction exemption, raise the parking space count to 430 in an effort for construction to stay on schedule. This was approved and Citrix got their office expansion.

A missed Layup

While I tend to always challenge parking minimums and preach about the need to reform parking management, there is a real concern with too little parking. As city staff stated during the discussion, having too little means that cars start using spaces in nearby areas that weren’t intended to handle that kind of traffic.

If Citrix had too little parking, the thought, shared by the planning commissioners, is that nearby Boylan Heights and the rest of the warehouse district would pick up the load. The neighborhood isn’t zoned for that kind of activity so the result would be an inappropriate use of those streets.

The planning commission mentioned the precedent that could be set by allowing Citrix to be exempt from the minimum required parking. They were afraid that future developments in the warehouse districts would also want that exemption, resulting in an area that continues to struggle with the so-called “parking challenges.”

What bothers me here is the handling of the request from Citrix and how it fits into the future vision of the warehouse district and downtown as a whole. Aren’t we trying to become a little more urban? Aren’t we trying to create growth nodes, filled with density that support alternative transit? Haven’t we identified that the city has a parking oversupply and is spiraling into debt?

I felt like the commission had a perfect candidate, one that asked for a parking exemption and is compensating for it with the exact urban culture that downtown Raleigh needs. Instead, it was status quo and the future of the warehouse district is on a path for more parking decks.

I know we can’t magically turn urban in just a few years. The way to get there is to have small victories that transition us there. It takes small steps. I think more people need to realize that.

We didn’t take that step here with Citrix and the way I see it, the planning commission has now made it more costly to building in the warehouse district, threatening any preservation of the warehouses we have there, and continuing to support a car culture in a very walkable, human-scale area of downtown.

In the spirit of basketball going on now, the commission had an open lane for an easy layup but instead passed the ball for someone else to decide what to do.

Weekend Reel: Downtown Plan

Email readers: This blog post has embedded video. Read the post on the blog to see them.

Downtown Plan on YouTube

In the quick video above, Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver introduces the ongoing Downtown Plan and why the city is undertaking this effort.

In the next video, we have the presentation given by Mr. Silver and the design firm, Sasaki Associates, at the Downtown Plan Kick-Off meeting that took place back in February of this year.

Raleigh Downtown Plan Kick-Off on YouTube

Make sure to keep an eye out for the next public meeting on April 2.

Downtown Plan – City of Raleigh

My Interview on This is Raleigh

Link – Click here to listen on SoundCloud – This is Raleigh: Leo Suarez

Embedded and linked above, you can listen to my interview on “This is Raleigh”, a show hosted by Ben McNeely that plays on Little Raleigh Radio. I enjoyed talking to Ben about transit, parking, and this blog. Make sure to follow the show going forward.

Speaking of radio, Little Raleigh Radio has started streaming their feed online while they wait for a chance to create a low-power FM signal. Make sure to give them a try and see if there’s something that interests you.

If you have a smartphone, the feed can be added using some helpful apps. For iOS devices, give FStream a try. I’m using ServeStream on my Android phone and the feed comes in just fine.

Here are two links to get their stream, whether it’s in a phone app or your browser.

http://listen.littleraleighradio.org:8000/lrr.ogg
http://listen.littleraleighradio.org:8000/lrr.aacp

Happy listening!

First Downtown Plan Visioning Session on April 2

Crane in downtown Raleigh

Here’s an event that downtown enthusiasts should put on their calendars. The first public session for the downtown plan is coming up and your feedback is needed.

First Downtown Plan Visioning Session

Date/Time: Wed., Apr. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Raleigh Convention Center Room 306
500 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
919-996-8500

Residents are invited to attend the visioning session to provide input and learn of emerging trends, key issues, challenges and analysis findings. These findings are being compiled by Sasaki Associates Inc., which is leading the consultant team for the Downtown Plan. The visioning session also will include breakout group discussions on how Downtown Raleigh’s role could evolve and transform over the next 10 years.

*First Downtown Plan Visioning Session Is Set for April 2

There will be more sessions in the future as the plan comes together throughout this nine-month process. Organizers are also taking a district-by-district approach with focused sessions on each one. Those are upcoming so stay tuned.

Ongoing Moore Square Transit Station Study Reveals Future Plans

Buses at the Moore Square Transit Station.

Last week at a public information session, plans for Raleigh Union Station and the Downtown Bus Facilities Master Plan were shown off and discussed. While Union Station gets all the press, see the updated renderings (via N&O), plans for the Moore Square Transit Station are now unfolding. With less pizzazz, and less progress, compared to Union Station the question of how downtown will handle the hub of Raleigh’s future bus system is very important.

The problem revolves around one question. How will the rail networks serving Raleigh Union Station compliment a future expanded bus network, and vice versa? Our current Moore Square Transit Station, the central hub of the Capital Area Transit system, is nearing capacity. If it were located near Union Station, there’s still not enough room to incorporate all the future routes and riders.

What planners are trying to figure out now is how to use bus terminals at both Union Station and Moore Square so that they compliment each other effectively. During the meeting last week, I took some photos of the current thoughts on how the Moore Square Station may evolve over time.

Click on this image below to see a possible solution for the current, near future, and long-term traffic flow of Moore Square Station. Excuse the blurry cam.

Possible future plans for the Moore Square Transit Station.

The first image shows the current layout and bus flow through the station. Buses turn in to the station on Martin Street and depending on the route, they either leave on Blount or Hargett Streets.

As the system grows and Union Station is worked on, Moore Square will have to accommodate more buses and routes before Union Station can alleviate some pressure. The second image shows how that could work. The inner lane can be expanded and converted to two-way. After removing some planters and parking, there actually is room to make that expansion work. I had to go and see that for myself and sure enough…

Moore Square Transit Station

With another lane for buses, capacity is increased. At the same time, the station is pretty much maxed out.

The third image shows what the future of Moore Square Station could be once Union Station is up and running with bus routes circulating here and there. The one-way street and connection from the station to Blount can be removed, leaving only the two-way lane for buses.

There is still lots of work to do with planning routes, which stations they will serve, and how to effectively connect both Union Station and Moore Square Station. This just shows that Union Station could be one piece of a major transit network overhaul in Raleigh’s future.

Pic of the Week

Elan Apartments construction in downtown Raleigh
A crane is up at the site of the Elan Apartments on Wilmington Street. This is one of the quietest projects I’ve ever seen with very little information about it out on the web.

With the potential for many more residents on this end of Peace Street it could significantly increase the pedestrian traffic. Glenwood South and Blount Street Commons are the bookends of Peace Street, the only real east-west connection in northern downtown. That funnel effect may make the street more urban over time, especially after the Capital Boulevard bridge is worked on.

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