West Johnson Street Rezoning Analyzed

Today, let’s jump over to the corner of West Johnson Street and St. Mary’s. A collection of properties is up for rezoning (Z-55-22) and we’re almost one year into it as the case still has not been denied or approved. Negotiations with residents, mostly from the nearby Forest Park neighborhood, started in May 2022 and the conditions on this rezoning are starting to get a bit much. The latest public hearing, from March 7, 2023, about the case is shown above or you can watch it directly on YouTube here.

For the map fans in the house, the map is here but basically all the properties on the block with the 712 Tucker Apartments are up for possible redevelopment. The request can be summarized as:

  • Current zoning: Neighborhood Mixed Use-3 stories-Urban Limited (NX-3-UL) and Neighborhood Mixed Use-5 stories-Urban Limited (NX-5-UL).
  • Requested zoning: Commercial Mixed Use-12 stories-Urban Limited-Conditional use (CX-12-UL-CU).
  • The request is consistent with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.
  • The request is inconsistent with the Future Land Use Map.
  • The request is consistent with the Urban Form Map.
  • The Planning Commission recommends approval/denial of the request (5 – 0).

Currently, the properties have nondescript buildings from the 1940s and 1950s serving a variety of small office and retail businesses. The only standout is that My Way Tavern is in a building from the late 1990s. Surrounding all these buildings is surface parking.

At this point, the original rezoning request has been conditioned up. You can read the extensive list of conditions yourself but it’s clear the influence the Forest Park neighborhood has had against this case. Within 150 feet from St. Mary’s Street:

  • Any Bar, Nightclub, Tavern, or Lounge cannot have outdoor seating.
  • Any Bar, Nightclub, Tavern, or Lounge can only operate between 6am and 11pm including deliveries.
  • Buildings heights should not exceed 5 stories and 80 feet.

There are also nitpicks like adding two dog waste stations, a bicycle lane, and a crosswalk.

The final condition worth highlighting is a minimum parking requirement of 0.5 spaces per home, which would likely be apartments, in any future development.

The case is still open and will be revisited at the April 4, 2023 council meeting.

Neighborhood Influence

If I’m hearing some the public comments right, the Forest Park neighborhood has it’s own Development Committee. That’s fantastic from a citizen engagement point-of-view but that is also very influential in a variety of ways. There’s protectionism going on here and is most likely a contributing factor to some of the challenges Raleigh faces with growth today.

Are other neighborhoods getting the same treatment with new rezoning cases adjacent to them as Forest Park is? I’m not seeing that so I hope the councilors take an equitable stance on that as they weigh their decision.

In addition, a reduction in height means less new homes for future Raleigh residents. The homes built will help in adding to our low supply, yes, but height shouldn’t be an issue here in a gridded area of town with a very high walk score and easy access to public transit. Limiting this new development reduces what we throw at the incredibly high cost of housing at this time. I mean, I’m sure as the residents drag this case along, those lawyer’s fees keep adding up and the future residents will pay them off with higher rents.

It’s also sad to me that cars, mainly parking and traffic, are yet again a component in a downtown Raleigh rezoning case. The minimum parking requirement is regressive as the city has no parking minimums and removed this policy in 2022. The concern stems from potential spill over parking into nearby blocks with one resident concerned that he, “can’t park in front of my own house.”

To be frank, I have no sympathy for anyone that can’t park in front of their house on a public street but also has no driveway. If they value parking close to their home, they should renovate their house to include a driveway. All developments nearby don’t have to accommodate for ones personal vehicle use. I feel bold enough to say that that is a bit elitist of some residents.

Instead, we should work together and encourage the city to add better on-street parking management systems such as the permitted system that the city has on offer at this time.

If the developer has already agreed to the current conditions, then fine. This case is good to go as is and I hope what we saw on March 7 is what is approved.

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