Project to Save Historic Homes Could Bring Cohousing to Downtown Raleigh

Houses on West Street

Houses on the 500 block of South West Street

During the November 21, 2017, council meeting, a proposal to sell two city-owned lots on Bloodworth Street was pitched as a way to save two homes that are planned to be demolished. The folks behind The Fairweather will have to remove the two homes shown in the photo above that are located on West Street.

With the Raleigh Historic Development Commission’s help, the houses would be located on these lots with certain restrictive covenants on them and a piece of Raleigh history could be saved. The houses fit well in the Prince Hall Historic District as they date to the historic Fourth Ward, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in the early 1900s.

The move seems to make sense from a preservation aspect. Below is a map of the current location and the proposed new location, lots the city currently owns.

Map showing current location of the houses and proposed new location

Click for larger

To sweeten the pitch, Matt Tomasulo, the brains behind the project, talked to the council about the preservation of the homes and how he wants to use the houses for a cohousing project, a concept that would provide affordable living for service workers in downtown.

For me, this council video is a must watch for readers. At 20 minutes (you could probably just jump to the 2-minute mark and start from there) it’s an easy watch or listen. If you can’t see the video, watch it here on YouTube.

The idea has a lot of merit in my opinion but when you watch the video, you get a sense that creative problem-solving isn’t welcome to some of our councilors.

The motion to sell the properties was denied because there was not the 60% majority needed to approve the sale of the land. Council members Kay Crowder, Dickie Thompson, and David Cox voted against. (Branch was absent)

I don’t want this post to be about politics but this one just doesn’t sit well. I’m not sure who might lose in this scenario and am curious as to what kind of council we will have for the next two years.

Councilor Crowder and Thompson had concerns that approving a sale of city-owned property to a current sitting planning commissioner (Tomasulo) “doesn’t pass the sniff test” or wouldn’t be seen positively from the public’s perspective. There were also concerns that the properties should be open to public bid rather than a direct sale.

However, it was made clear that no public bid was needed when it was used for historic preservation. This process has been used in the past as a way to save historic structures when the alternative is demolition.

It was also made clear that planning commission members are volunteers and get no compensation for their work.

Corner of Bloodworth and Cabarrus Streets.

Corner of Bloodworth and Cabarrus Streets where the houses would go.

You can clearly see the lacking ability of objective decision-making during this exchange by some council members. In my opinion, the council should have no business in the end user here. If the Raleigh Historic Development Commission OKs the sale (they are the experts here) then it is in the public’s interest to sell city-owned land for preservation. (it is in a historic district after all)

I always try to consider the alternative but this is an example of creative problem-solving that institutional forces sometimes can’t appreciate. The only counter I can think of is if other needs are a higher priority than historic preservation. The councilors against didn’t voice any other concerns though with the land’s end use.

They used emotional “feelings” to deny something.

It should be seen as a bonus that they were able to ask questions about the end use, meet the eventual owner, etc. Tomasulo is just as much a Raleighite as you and I and the vote was carried out with an obvious bias.

The houses are set to be demolished in a few months. It is possible for the party behind this effort to come back in January to try again. I’d like to keep an eye on this one and see if RalCon readers can let their councilors know how they feel about an effort like this.

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    None right now. Must be a new project.


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  1. Thank you Leo!
    I look forward to watching the entire video. But suffice to say that I am in total agreement with in on this, what a great opportunity!

  2. With those lots being so small I can’t imagine there being much of a profit driven ulterior motive, granted I don’t know what kind of development if any is permissible on a historic lot?

  3. Totally agree and thank you for stepping in to provide some context to this. If these beautiful, historic properties get razed it’s going to be on council’s hands. Not to mention the solution was creating an affordable housing option – it’s all really quite a mess IMO and a bitter disappointment to see the city’s leadership preventing these type of unique partnerships from going forward.

  4. Do you know what else wouldn’t be seen positively from the public’s perspective? Letting these houses be demolished for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.

  5. I would love to hear from Councilwoman Crowder what she would have needed in order to vote yes on this project. She mentioned perception from her district. Having district forums periodically to inform us about these types of issues would be incredibly helpful. We desperately need a variety of affordable housing options so I would love to know what types of projects the Council would actually get behind so we can pursue those. The longer we go without more affordable housing, the more detrimental it is to our community.

  6. I have never been a fan of Crowder. For every decent decision she makes, they’re overshadowed by 12 stupid ones. Way too nit-picky about all the wrong things.

  7. I agree completely. She represents my district and no one even really tries to run against her. It’s disheartening.

  8. If this doesn’t go through, it will be a huge stain on the progressive credentials of the city. Matt will just go over to Durham and do it and then they’ll be hailed as forward looking and visionary. This disgusts me. I really appreciate the post vote comments of the Mayor and the outgoing Mary-Ann Baldwin.
    This sort of housing has been on my mind a lot because I am watching my generation age and I know that most of them are not going to be able to afford the retirement of their parents’ generation. Just as Matt says, we need to be preparing our market for those who are on-ramping to home ownership as well as those off-ramping from it. Affordability is a serious issue for Millennials today and for aging GenXers in the near future. There’s no time to waste in preparing for tomorrow. Of course, there’s also the persistent need for affordable housing options for service industry workers and others who may never ascend to private home ownership as well.

  9. I hate commenting on politics, but this in addition to the recent quibble over the Mayor’s proposed committee assignments have me uneasy. And unfortunately seem to be signs to come of a divided, uneasy council.

    This city is going to grow, with or without thoughtful and positive direction from our area leaders. Raleigh is truly starting to hit its stride as its coming into its adolescence, and I believe this is THE MOST important time of this area’s growth. Either they can help guide us through these growing pains, or they can fight it. How we respond and address today’s pressing issues (congestion, housing, etc.) will shape at least the next 20 yrs of Raleigh, and we’ve unfortunately been putting off effectively addressing these for way too long.

    If the City Council can’t realize this, that the growth is unstoppable and so they must work with it, then it’s going to be a long 2 years. Because to me, the only way to limit or stop this growth is to effectively kill the city.

  10. I have one question: Would any of you want to live next to a ‘rooming house’? Let’s say you just paid $350,000 for your recently renovated bungalow in East Raleigh and this guy puts a ‘rooming house’ next to your purchase. Think this will be a positive for your property value, especially if you can’t control ‘who’ the tenants are long-term? You can’t control if its just the cool, hipster barista or a drug dealer.

  11. Well if it’s a drug dealer, you could call the cops. Or maybe it helps the property value…depends what you’re into. ;-)

    In all fairness, my neighborhood in West Raleigh has a lot of homes close together with the option for a couple rooms above the garage. I didn’t spend the money or see the need for it, but many people did. I *think* the HOA prohibits people from renting out that space, but if suddenly they didn’t, and my neighborhood density doubled, it would be a disaster. We barely have enough parking now, not to mention the pool and common areas would be packed. I’m all for affordable housing and property rights, but I can see a lot of issues with this idea. I realize downtown is different, but there’s still lots of unforeseen consequences. I like the idea of AirBnB too, but same potential issues. I don’t think we need backyard cottages for the servants (kidding) and people renting out their homes to a revolving door of strangers to be a “cool” or modern city.

  12. How is it any different from living next to the Lincoln Apts? Essentially, only difference between co-housing and apartments is that units share a living room. Its more affordable because tenants are not paying for dedicated space that they don’t want/need.

  13. @Mike,

    I go back to my question. Assume you are the person who paid $350-$400,000 on one of those renovated bungalows and this guy plops a ‘rooming house’ next door. Would that be good for your property value in your opinion?

  14. If you’re the person who paid $350,000-$400,000 to live in one of the poorer (but undergoing gentrification) neighborhoods, you can’t exactly be butthurt about poor folks living around you, Thomas. Some people just need a place to live. It’s not all about your property value.

  15. Magnus thanks for that. I deleted more than one paragraph I wrote on this but decided to say my piece. In short, if the be all, end all of everything, is escalating price, then well…many other good, important considerations are overlooked, or even steamrolled by the almighty dollar. I know all of the arguments about profit motive blah blah…I was a mole in the Libertarian “machine” for a while. The basic assumption which is seen with the insinuation by Thomas, and held aloft by the the entire almighty dollar approach, is that altruism will eventually win out when the dollar is properly worshipped. It ignores that there are plenty of reasons to buy a house beyond the hope of appreciation….for me it is walking distance to my job and to places I like to hang out…I only cared that I could afford the place I bought…and it is very near the two lots in question. Sure there are lots of reasons why depreciation sucks, but those assume the speculator didn’t overpay for a place on day one. Will the $600,000 houses on east Davie Street resell for that a year later? I’d say there is a good chance they would not….and for those folks, well, I can’t feel sorry for them.

  16. I’ve thought that (and commented here) new developments in DT Raleigh are way overheated relative to the existing product in the market. This is almost across the board true for all of DT but it’s especially true (IMO) for DT-East.
    That said, I don’t know why everyone is jumping to the conclusion that this co-housing concept equates to a bad element. While this product will likely be less expensive in the market compared to its SFH neighbors and standard apartments, does anyone really think that this product is going to be downmarket in the least? I highly doubt it. What it will likely become is a hipster/professional filled project of 20 somethings who have no desire to have more than they need at this stage in their lives. They’ll likely still pay nearly $1000 a month for their small suites compared to 20-70% more for a standard studio or one bedroom in the newer complexes.
    I can’t even imagine Matt T. going into this venture with the idea of being s slumlord.

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