Posts by Leo Suarez

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A Walk Down New Bern Avenue

The blog and Community tend to focus on new developments in the downtown core, such as 301 Hillsborough or The Willard hotel, that we may be overlooking some other activity just on the outskirts of downtown Raleigh. I thought it time for another Walk Series post to show off the east side of downtown, mainly the New Bern corridor.

The New Bern corridor interests me mainly due to some key observations and upcoming projects:

  • Planned location of the city’s first Bus-Rapid Transit route
  • Increased residential units from new townhome developments
  • Upcoming zoning conversations for the area

Loosely defined, for this Walk post, I’m focused on New Bern and Edenton Streets between Tarboro and East.

BRT Transit is Coming

With the implementation of the 1/2 cent sales tax for transit in 2017, higher-capacity transit, among other improvements, are being planned all over the county. Along New Bern and Edenton Streets, bus-rapid transit (BRT) will be rolling through in a few years if everything stays on schedule.

Being one of four planned BRT routes, high frequency transit will be flowing in and out of downtown Raleigh to the eastern parts of the county. Read more about the plan for BRT here.

The corridor may see dedicated bus lanes, expanded bike lanes, and new sidewalks on both sides of the street. It’s a big upgrade for the same corridor that currently runs the GoRaleigh bus route with the second highest ridership in that transit system.

Tarboro and New Bern/Edenton is loosely planned to get a BRT station on this upgraded route. The next stop inbound would be downtown itself.

Last reported, before the pandemic hit, plans were to be rolling buses in 2023-2024.

From Single-Family to Townhome

Historically, the corridor consists of many larger lots with single-family homes. You can still get a sense of the character going back to the early 1900s with the bungalows and larger houses facing the street.

However, it’s not hard to spot some newer homes, mostly of modern architecture style, sprinkled throughout the area. These homes were popping up between about 2008 until today. These homes add a stark contrast to the area as you can see in the photos.

And if you really look more, the modern townhome seems to be making its way into the corridor as of recently. First, the ten-unit project named 10 Arros completed along New Bern within the last few years. Construction is currently taking place at 625 New Bern where 18 units are planned. Similar modern style as the former.

Finally, across the street from 625 New Bern is Oak City Overlook. This development plans 20 modern townhomes and land has already been cleared at the site.

Could more be coming? I’ve seen plans submitted for more and you have for sale signs like this one at 914 New Bern which advertise, “Townhome/Condo Site for Sale.”

And there’s no shortage of space along this corridor. As I mentioned earlier, the single-family houses are on large lots that could easily be subdivided.

You also have the North Carolina State government vacating a large site at New Bern and Tarboro. The long-time site of the NC DMV is being vacated soon and that’ll put 5.4 acres of land a stone’s throw away from a rapid transit stop. Any development here, plus the adjacent surface parking that supported the NC DMV, could greatly change over if the state decides to sell it.

We also have 8 acres of undeveloped land at New Bern and Swain. Currently, the lot is only partially used by the Exploris school in temporary buildings but 8 acres offers a ton of flexibility, capable of a pretty transformative project. Just look at the map above, it’s that empty lot in the middle. That’s huge!

Zoning it Properly

From my perspective, you have two forces that are about to collide. The development is coming. Should transit only serve the single-family and new, high-end townhomes being built here?

To get more people access to the future transit network, an awkward conversation is soon to come, Raleigh. It’s time to talk about re-zoning the area.

This is a good time to revisit a collaborative post I did about a zoning tool called the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD) and it just so happens that this area has one right in the middle. Below is the New Bern – Edenton NCOD and you can see, almost everything mentioned so far sits right inside it.

In short, the NCOD applies additional restrictions on height, setbacks, and is a tool to encourage new development be consistent with the current character. This NCOD was put in place in 1992.

To make transit more effective, these townhome developments help but we’ll need some larger projects in here to ensure additional office and residential density as they will be within walking distance of a high-frequency bus stop. It is a prime opportunity to get Raleigh residents on a car-less lifestyle at a variety of income levels.

I feel that the NCOD implemented in 1992 needs a revisit and with the current talks of more affordable housing around transit, it would be better to deliver hundreds (thousands?) of new units here rather than status quo townhomes near transit.

The land is still available but the development is starting to pick up. I’m hoping the city can start purchasing land for affordable housing as well as pushing for new zoning updates to match our 2030 and beyond goals as a city.

More conversations on this topic are sure to come.

New Affordable Housing Plans in 2020

Affordable housing isn’t a typical topic of the blog but this year, I’ve been following two initiatives that may provide atypical housing at a lower price point in Raleigh. These include:

  1. The City of Raleigh wants to sell a plot of land in East Raleigh for $1 (one dollar) in exchange for affordable housing.
  2. On election day, you’ll see an option to approve, yes or no, an $80 million housing bond. Jump to more on this on the city’s website.

Lane-Idlewild Affordable Housing

The city wants to leverage over an acre of land on East Lane Street to get some affordable housing units built. The proposal on the table is that the land, valued at over $1.4 million, would be sold for $1 (yes, one dollar) in exchange for more affordable housing.

Click for larger

One of the key criteria here is having at least 51% of the proposed residential units being affordable. In this case, affordable means that it is targeting individuals at the 80% area median income level. (see more about AMI here)

The proposal submission date was in August and the city was flooded with around 32 proposals. This week, the city council moved ahead and the list of applicants has been reduced to four.

Here is a brief overview of the four applications.

Archive Development

  • Rendering shown above
  • proposes 10 lots, each with a duplex and an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).
  • mix of rental units available to <50-60% AMI, <70-80% AMI and <80-100% AMI
  • affordability preserved for a minimum of 20 years.

CASA

  • proposes 11 rental units across duplexes and quadraplexes
  • all units will be available to <40% AMI
  • tenants will pay a maximum 30% of their income for rent
  • minimum of 30 years of affordability
  • will provide a community garden and on-site management services

Merge Capital

  • proposes a mixture of 44 rental suites and units across detached, attached and ADUs
  • the single-family building types include 1 and 2 bedroom living options arranged as a co-living layout
  • propose a mix of 50% of affordable suites for <50% AMI and 50% for <80% AMI, or 40% of units at <50% AMI and 60% of units at <80% AMI
  • a 25-year initial term of affordability.

Raleigh Area Land Trust

  • proposes 16 Cottage Court units for sale across 8 duplexes
  • propose 50% (8) of the units be sold to <50% AMI
  • 25% (4) units to <60% AMI
  • 25% (4) units at Market Rate.
  • RALT would retain ownership of the land while leasing it to the homeowners through a 99-year, inheritable, renewing ground lease, while limiting equity accrual in order for the homes to be resold to other income-qualifying households.

This is such an interesting project and some good proposals are on the table.

Affordable Housing Bond 2020

With voter approval in November, $80 million would be used to fund affordable housing in a variety of ways. From a July 2020 update, the breakdown of those funds are shown below.

What has me most interested in this bond is that money will go directly into purchasing land around transit. We already know where that land is going to be as we’ve been undergoing a Wake Transit Plan since adoption in 2017. I wouldn’t be surprised if the BRT routes are the areas where land purchasing will take place.

In response to concerns about getting the needs from this bond to the ones that need it most, those at the lowest income scale in Raleigh, I’d like to borrow Councilor Melton’s update after the council’s September 1 meeting.

We also adopted the recommendation to produce more housing units affordable at 30% area median income (AMI). At the meeting this week, staff presented policy recommendations for producing more housing affordable at 30% AMI.

Staff recommended allocating $10 million from the bond funds for permanent supportive housing for very low income (30% AMI or lower) chronically homeless individuals, $10 million from the bond funds for non-profit partners to create or preserve small scale projects where not less than one-third of total units serve 30% AMI or lower, and $8 million from the bond funds plus regulatory incentives for new rental developments where not less than 20% of the units are affordable for not less than 30 years. Staff also recommended requiring 25% of units in 9% tax credit projects and 10% of units in 4% tax credit projects to target creating housing affordable at 30% AMI.

We voted to adopt and approve all of these recommendations.

9/1/2020 meeting summary: Affordable Housing Bond, micromobility (scooters!), big rezoning – link

It’s a pretty large initiative that certainly attempts to close the gap on Raleigh’s housing needs and deserves your consideration when voting this Fall.

New Residential Coming to 615 West Peace Street

The latest iteration for the property at 615 West Peace Street is now a residential building named 615 Peace. One and two bedroom units are planned for an empty site that has gone through a few proposals over time, including a hotel with a controversial rezoning.

Even with the ongoing pandemic, downtown residential occupancy is very strong according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s latest State of Downtown Raleigh report.

The project’s site also mentions ground-floor retail which is refreshing to see on a busy street like Peace. The plans look pretty decent so I’m hoping the condo market makes it happen as rentals still seem to dominate downtown.

Pic of the Week

Starting this week, the city is having protected bike lanes installed on West and Harrington Streets as part of the Downtown North-South Greenway Connector. This will be downtown’s first protected bike lane which connects the warehouse district to Smoky Hollow. You can already see parts of it along West, shown above.

Along West Street, bicycle traffic can start from Union Station and head toward Smoky Hollow in the protected lane until North Street. If heading the other way around, you can get back to the warehouse district riding down Harrington Street.

The placement of the lanes is also nice as there are several Citrix Cycle stations along them including Union Station, across from Morgan Street Food Hall, Hillsborough Street, and at Jones Street.

This is excellent to see as it is a foundational route that one day could connect to a greenway heading north along a Devereux Meadows park in north downtown and to a greenway to Dix Park which is to the south. The lanes should be 100% by October.

Pic of the Week

The demolition continues on Caswell Square, this time with the Oral Hygiene building along Dawson Street coming down. By the time you read this, it is most likely gone.

The demolition on the square itself started in March 2020, see this post, and no plans for the land have been announced. If I recall correctly, this is the last building to be removed from the square.

I said it before and I still continue to think that the state government needs to improve the management of their own properties as the loss of these buildings, with private interest in rehabilitation, is a loss for downtown Raleigh.

You can revisit Caswell Square on this December 2016 blog post.

Seaboard Station Block B Plans Show more Mixed-Use, Underground Parking

During the Aug 20 meeting of the Raleigh Appearance Commission, a request for an alternate design came up for what’s being called Block B of Seaboard Station. The six-story building planned for this site is a mixed-use building with residences over retail. Above is a concept rendering

A bit unique to the building, and very welcome in my opinion, is that the plans show parking being underground. You don’t see too much of that with the development of the last few decades as a plethora of new buildings have been built over a parking deck or have the deck wrapped in the interior.

The site of Block B at Seaboard Station would loosely be over the current tennis courts along Halifax Street between Seaboard Avenue and Franklin Street.

It doesn’t look like the building would go all the way to Abe Alley so perhaps the remainder of that block is still being worked on.

The plans show about 180 units and all four sides of the building have an active use for either retail or residential. There’s just one parking entrance along Halifax.

Those are some of the high-level takeaways about this project from this request. If you’re curious about the request itself, the summary says:

The building meets the build-to requirement for much of the site but is missing build-to requirements along Halifax Street. A major Duke Energy 115kV transmission line and easement extends through the property along the entire Halifax Street frontage. Buildings and other permanent, above ground structures are not allowed within Duke Energy’s transmission line easements.

Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

Downtown Status and Do Your Part to Help

This week, the city council received an update from Jim Greene, Assistant City Manager, and Bill King, President of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, on the latest efforts to help and even reactivate downtown Raleigh as we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic. The riots over the death of George Floyd also had a big impact earlier this year as there are still storefronts with boards over their windows.

Today I’d like to ask readers to catch up with your downtown and take part in a short list of to-do’s that you can do to help downtown Raleigh.

Before we get in to the details, let’s get your responsibilities out of the way.

  1. Fill Out the 2020 Census to Help Downtown Raleigh’s Future. Do that here.
  2. Read about 7 ways to support local businesses.
  3. Bookmark this page and become a DTR foodie pro with takeout and dine-in options always changing.

Now how is downtown Raleigh doing?

You can jump to the video below and hear the report but some key takeaways include:

  • The city has a priority to reactivate downtown Raleigh
  • A majority of damage from the riots have been repaired with plans throughout the rest of the year to replace planters, transit stops, and the remaining glass
  • The city will expedite applications for outdoor dining on streets and parklets
  • The $5 parking fee on weekend nights in parking decks has been suspended
  • Food and beverage sales were at an all time low in April 2020 but have only been increasing
  • Public health is priority #1
  • 55 storefronts still have boards on windows but 66% are down
  • Board art is being kept and documented by Raleigh Arts

We’re getting there slowly and as the health crisis subsides, downtown vitality should only increase. As the look and feel of downtown comes back, so too will shoppers and visitors.

The video is below. [youtube link here]