Pic of the Week

Charter Square south tower completes construction

Click for larger, wider view.

The south tower of Charter Square is having a grand opening today. From the press release:

The latest addition to the Raleigh skyline, Charter Square, officially opens this week. Located at the south end of Fayetteville Street, one of the most prominent addresses in Wake County, Charter Square is welcoming its new tenants to the building with an official grand opening celebration.

Eleven stories of stunning Class-A office designed for Platinum LEED certification, Charter Square towers above a sophisticated mix of premier retail, restaurants and metropolitan nightlife in the heart of a downtown district shining with a vibrancy.

There are still some construction fencing and barrels along Wilmington and Lenoir Streets as part of the final cleanup. The Lenoir Street closing notice isn’t on the city’s website anymore so hopefully the street will be open again soon too.

Following Comments on RalCon

A website detail that I missed all these years is to provide a comments RSS feed URL. If you’re into the comments on this site or at least want to follow along the conversation, here is the RSS feed for comments only.


I’ve put a link on the sidebar for them as well.

Pic of the Week

Bank of America Plaza renovation taking place.
Bank of America Plaza is currently renovating their lobby and the facade facing City Plaza.

Renovation Near Complete at 501 South Person Street, New Restaurant Planned

The building at 501 South Person Street has been under heavy renovation.

The building at 501 South Person Street has been under heavy renovation.

I love seeing building reuse stories and this one has really piqued my interest.

The building located at the corner of Cabarrus and Person Street is done, or nearly done, with its renovation and the owner, Phuc Tran, wants to put a restaurant here. The blocker from starting work on the restaurant is zoning as the lot is currently zoned for Residential Business (RB) and Mr. Tran wants it to be Downtown Mixed Use. (DX) The DX zoning would allow him to open a restaurant that serves alcohol.

For a great catch-up on the issue, check out the story on the Raleigh Public Record.

Since 1922, the site had been home to a Seventh-day Adventist church. They continued to use the facility until the 1980s, by which time the congregation had outgrown the facilities. After that, it had been the place of worship for other churches, but when the building was damaged by a tornado in 2011, the church was abandoned. Scheduled for demolition, Phuc Tran stepped in and repaired the church.

While the planning commission had voted 8-2 in recommending approval of the rezoning, the central citizens advisory council had voted unanimously in disapproval of the rezoning. A valid statutory protest petition had been filed as well.

Speaking at the meeting, several members of the audience said their primary concern was the selling of alcohol and that litter might become a problem because of the restaurant.

*Downtown Rezoning Divides Neighborhood Residents

Even though the Raleigh Planning Commission voted in favor of the rezoning, the Raleigh City Council still has to approve it. That vote came up recently, on June 2, 2015, and was delayed after some discussion. Here’s the video of it which also includes some great photos of the renovation work and interior of the building.

If the video doesn’t show for you, watch it here.

No vote was made as it was delayed two weeks because city staff needs to determine the validity of the submitted protest petition. The council should discuss it again at their June 16, 2015 meeting.

The residents immediately around the site came out to voice support or concerns about this rezoning request, as you can hear in the video. (lots of comments by the way)

Those for the rezoning want to see Mr. Tran open a restaurant here. Reasons are that it will bring some vitality to the area and possibly raise property values.

Those against do not want restaurant, especially alcohol related, activity nearby and feel it inappropriate to be near college students (Shaw) and young children of the nearby youth centers. Possible trash, smells, and public drunkenness were other reasons to be against the rezoning. There were also worries that if the rezoning was approved and the owner changed later, what holds the new owner to the same promises as the old one?

In my opinion, there are two way to look at this issue. One is to decouple the restaurant opening and the rezoning case. The other is to see them as linked together.

As far as the rezoning goes, the city’s comprehensive plan and unified development ordinance (UDO) have pretty much included this property into the downtown mixed-use (DX) camp. Actually, the proposed rezoning for that entire area is to be downtown mixed-use zoning. You can verify it with this tool by entering in the address.

The case here is that Mr. Tran wants to have the rezoning now so work can get started on the restaurant and not wait until the new UDO rezoning goes into effect. It’s completely consistent with what the city wants already and city staff confirmed that everything is indeed consistent with all policies.

Proposed UDO map around 501 South Person Street.

Proposed UDO map around 501 South Person Street with 501 South Person highlighted. It is surrounded by DX rezoning under the new UDO. Click for larger.

As a rezoning case, this is a no-brainer and the council can point to the adopted policies in order to make a decision. The rezoning should be approved.

One major difference I noticed between those that are for and against the restaurant at 501 South Person is the difference of time each resident has lived in the neighborhood. Those against have decades under their belts of living nearby. Relatively speaking, those for the rezoning are new to the area. I’m generalizing sure but if you watch the video and note the addresses given, the sale dates of the properties of those for the rezoning are less than 15 years compared to those against who claim to have lived in the neighborhood for multiple decades.

I could be wrong but there’s something to this.

East Raleigh doesn’t have experience with a restaurant of this type right in the neighborhood so they have every right to scrutinize. If you look at history, the past few decades have shown very little new businesses in the area so the neighborhood that these residents have grown to love and protect is being challenged by something new.

The new residents most likely came to the area riding on the downtown revitalization wave and of course a new restaurant appeals to them. That is what has been happening around here in case you haven’t noticed.

Another view of the building at 501 South Person Street.

Another view of the building at 501 South Person Street.

My personal opinion is that a renovated one-story building turned neighborhood restaurant is a much better contributor to any neighborhood than an empty lot or future development. The building, which has been now saved, maintains character and honors those that built the neighborhood in the past.

I think whatever the outcome, a lot of good has taken place with the building being saved. The community, new and veteran residents, should come together and work out the concerns in an open communication instead of coming off as rivals during a government meeting.

In the many more decades to come, the building may evolve to serve more than just the new downtown residents as the nearby culture embraces it. I think that’s the first step and is something worth supporting.

Person Street Townhomes in Blount Street Commons

The Townhomes of Blount Street Commons

As part of Blount Street Commons, Person Street is really getting a residential presence with these townhomes named The Wallace and The Anderson. The website is lacking a lot of key information but here’s where you can see more about them.

While nothing spectacular to look at, (The Ten looks much better and the units were priced a bit lower) I actually really like that we’re getting some of this type of residential around downtown. I hope one day for there to be a plethora of three or four story buildings like this scattered all throughout our urban areas. It’s also a great transition development from our core out into the neighborhoods.

The Townhomes of Blount Street Commons

Outdoor Seating Ordinance Changes Being Discussed

Email readers: This blog post has embedded video. Read the post on the blog if you can’t see it.

If the video doesn’t show for you, watch it here.

I’m into this outdoor seating “controversy” and wanted to get some ideas and thoughts out there on the blog.

First, let’s start with some history. If you recall, our downtown’s vibrancy was questioned during a Raleigh City Council meeting in January 2015. Developer Greg Hatem introduced the concerns (watch it in the previous link) and was quoted as saying that downtown Raleigh was “unlivable.” During that discussion, it was mentioned that a group was doing some independent thinking on this and wanted to work with the city to address it. In Hatem’s opinion, noise and disorderly behavior on Fayetteville Street was one of the reasons holding back downtown’s vibrancy.

Now, all of a sudden this is on the consent agenda for the June 2, 2015 council meeting.

3.1 Private Use of Public Spaces Ordinance Update
Marchell Adams-David, City Manager’s Office
Recent discussions of vibrancy within downtown Raleigh and the Fayetteville Street District have revealed a number of issues that need to be addressed. One prevalent issue is the need to re-define Outdoor Dining as currently addressed in the City code. Staff is currently revising the existing Standards for Private Use of Public Spaces (PUPS), originally authorized in 2007. The original intent of an Outdoor Dining Permit was for PUPS areas to be utilized for dining; since that time a number of Outdoor Dining permits have been issued to businesses and private clubs where no associated dining activity occurs.

Revisions to the current Outdoor Dining ordinance include additional clarity, strengthening of enforcement and a means to resolve administration of the ordinance. The two Outdoor Dining ordinances, Sections 9-7007 and 12-2121 of the City code, require a text change for the purpose of revision and modernization.

Recommendation: Authorize a public hearing for June 16, 2015.

Watch the video, it’s short, as City Manager Ruffin Hall explains the ordinance and who it affects. The council did not vote on this and instead moved it to the Law and Public Safety Committee and it’ll be discussed at their June 9 meeting.

The bar owners have definitely come out against this with some that are not affected showing opposition as well. The claim is that the bars spend thousands of dollars on policing and managing their patrons while on the public sidewalks so to not allow it, the city then has to police it. Could there be a liability issue here too? Some think so.

The supporters of this ordinance update argue that the noise levels on Fayetteville Street are already too high and with over 5 new outdoor amplified noise permits recently submitted for Fayetteville Street, the levels will increase. This is a detractor from a vibrant downtown.

I’ve thought about this for a bit and think I’ve formed my opinion on the matter. Like most controversies, both sides may be at an extreme where a compromise should satisfy everyone. Someone shared a photo with me on Twitter that helps the discussion.

That is what a typical Friday or Saturday night looks like in front of a handful of businesses on Fayetteville Street. It’s alive. It’s buzzing. There are people everywhere.

It’s also a side effect of those very large sidewalks we built on “North Carolina’s Main Street.”

Many would agree that having a drink outside is fantastic. I LOVE sitting outside with a beverage. It could be a pint of beer, glass of wine, can of soda, glass of water, it doesn’t matter. Still tastes better outside in my opinion. So remember that drinking outside is fantastic and clearly that is helping businesses thrive on Fayetteville Street.

However, because of our huge sidewalks here and the lack of defined spaces for the public versus a business, the dominant force takes over. The bar patrons are taking over the sidewalks and not allowing the sidewalk to function like a transportation network. You can’t easily walk up and down Fayetteville Street. Forget it when it comes to those in a wheelchair.

I’m not calling anyone out but some do it better than others.

So what’s the middle ground? To disallow businesses from having outdoor seating because they do not serve food shows a lack of understanding of the issue and a failure to work with those owners on an improved solution that benefits everyone. I’d like to think that a vibrant community is one where visitors can flow from place to place with ease.

If you look at the photo embedded above, the problem is the “massing” of people standing outside a bar/restaurant from the front door all the way to the curb. Is this not a safety hazard? How does someone walk through that, especially someone in a wheelchair? What if an emergency happens, won’t this slow down the emergency folks that respond?

A good conversation with bar owners could be around this topic. How can the city and owners create a process to allow a more defined sidewalk seating/entertaining area? The sidewalk must function as transportation just like the street must be clear so vehicles can get through.

We should up our outdoor seating game and let owners set up decorative ropes, umbrellas, awnings, etc. in order to define a space that says, “in this area, you are outside for this bar/restaurant.” That also sends the message that, “being outside of that area, you are not a part of this bar/restaurant, keep moving.”

That’s a much better look than the borderline chaos we have going on with these droves of people congregating outside bars.

The other side of it is enforcement and I expect that to be a big discussion at the committee meeting next week.

Wrapping up, my thinking so far is that defining our public spaces so that there is balance between moving pedestrians (transit network) and outdoor entertainment (drinking. outside. Fantastic!) would benefit everyone without further limitations that the city has to work hard to enforce.

Pic of the Week

Elan Apartments under construction

This weekend I took a walk around the Blount Street Commons area. The Elan Apartments look almost done here along Wilmington Street. As we’ve discussed, nothing fancy at all but it’s a lot of urban infill compared to the parking lot that was here before.

The state government district could use some new residential for sure.

Elan Apartments under construction

CityCamp NC is June 11-13

CityCamp presentations during the 2014 event.

CityCamp presentations during the 2014 event.

An event that I’m passionate about, CityCamp NC, is coming up soon and I want to encourage readers to consider attending. The annual unconference focuses on conversations around how government, businesses, and citizens can use technology to create solutions. Come listen to talks and even participate in a team that could walk away with a cash prize.

At different parts of the event, you can hear talks about what is going on around us such as government/citizen collaboration, how open data can help teams find solutions, or what problems civic hackers are working on. During the kickoff on Thursday, June 11, we’re taking over HQ Raleigh for networking, lightning talks, and inspiration.

On Friday and Saturday, we’re moving over to the Wake County Commons where we’ll be hearing ideas from participants, start the conversations around those ideas, and teams will start forming. Working demos and pitches on these ideas will be done by the end of the event and judges will help determine the winners.

This is what I love about the event. Inspiration leads to ideas leads to action in such a short amount of time.

For more information check out the official press release and make sure to register soon.

Let me know if anyone has any questions about it as I am a core volunteer for the event this year.

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