North Carolina Railroad Working to Rezone The Depot, Offer a Mix of New Uses

A rezoning case (see Z-9-22 here) that’s been in progress throughout the year involves The Depot, the long warehouse situated at the end of West Davie Street fronted by the delicious Videri Chocolate Factory. Owned by the North Carolina Railroad, a desire to develop more of their properties seems to be part of their future. The rezoning would allow for up to 20 stories of new development and could possibly alter the layout of the existing Depot building.

To dive right into things, the presentation and discussion from the August 9, 2022 meeting of the planning commission, embedded below, (or watch it on YouTube) is the best place to start. The commission has recommended approval of the rezoning and it next goes to city council for overall approval.

Earlier in the year, the rezoning started at the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and that group recommended to deny this rezoning request. However, throughout the year, conditions have been added that would save some of the historic structures and possibly make the rezoning more palatable to city leaders.

Looking at the aerial photo from Google Maps as well as Exhibit A (above) from the commission presentation, we are actually talking about the The Depot building and the parking lot. The section where Videri is located currently is the head house of the building and plans are for it to remain. The rest of the Depot building could be partially or entirely removed as part of the future development.

For completeness, the request also wants to rezone a property on the other side of the tracks. If you look at the Google Maps aerial, you’ll see the former train station site. It has since been demolished and is a gravel parking lot now.

If approved in its current form, the rezoning conditions around the Depot would preserve the head house as is and any new additions to it must have complimentary materials. There also must be a 30 foot wide pedestrian walkway between Davie and Cabarrus street. That could look something like this.

The architect, Gensler, proposes a mix of uses and buildings that compliment the Depot as well as the rest of the warehouse district. A “strong retail base” was mentioned in order to support active uses along the pedestrian walkway, shown in the proposed site plan above.

The rezoning hits the city council starting at their meeting on September 20.

My thoughts on this are evolving. If you watched the commission video above, members of planning commission were definitely feeling emotional trying to find a way to preserve the building that the entire historic district is named after. It is called, “The Depot Historic District” after all so demolishing most of it seems unfortunate.

I have however always disliked the surface parking lot and welcome the new buildings and the pedestrian walkway. The Depot can be pretty active on nights and especially on weekends but I’m just not sure it’s being used to its full potential.

It always seems like it’s the parking in new developments that take up the most space and cause older buildings to be demolished. The new proposed site plan replaces the majority of the Depot with structured parking underneath new apartments. I can’t help but to continue to roll my eyes at the thought of this. Realistically, even though we don’t require any parking in downtown Raleigh, the city is just too car-dependent for new projects to offer less parking or none at all.

I do think that nearby project The Dillon gives me hope that a new development could be built that keeps some of the character in place and creates a whole new pedestrian experience with active uses. I also think being such a big transit supporter that I can’t fight more density near our Raleigh Union Station.

You also have to consider that as of today, if they wanted to, North Carolina Railroad could demolish everything and build from scratch. There are no protections in place. However, in exchange for an increasing in zoning allowances, the head house would be incorporated into the new development.

It’s not great but it feels like a strong compromise.

Pic of the Week

Demolition is taking place at the now former home of the North Carolina Association of Educators building at the corner of South and Salisbury Street. The one-story campus with surface parking was tucked off the street some so it had always been something that you could easily miss. Even now, you have to zoom through the trees and bushes to see the pile of rubble that has to be taken away.

Coming soon will be Salisbury Square, a mix of apartments and office buildings. See this July 2020 post for a recap.

Pic of the Week

Seaboard Station is really humming. In the foreground above, Block A has been cleared even more with the former parking lot stripped away and trees removed. This piece will have hotel and apartment units.

In the background, Block B is getting bricked up and looking real nice. I expect the crane to come down soon but maybe it’ll be moved to Block A. Just a guess here.

Block C, not shown above, has fencing around it so perhaps demolition is upcoming. For a refresher on the layout of Seaboard Station, see this March 2022 post.

After Successful Rezoning, Legends to go up to 30 Stories for Residential

An administrative site review has hit the city with high-level plans for a new tower along Harrington Street. The Legends nightclub at 330 West Hargett Street (corner of Hargett and Harrington) would be demolished to make way for a new tower and parking deck, the site plans show.

The new tower would have 372 apartments, ground-floor retail space, and a parking deck. The plans show all these offerings in a 30-story tower. The building where Legends is located isn’t the only one getting the “demosh” as the tower actually goes along Harrington between Hargett and Morgan. Two buildings along Morgan, being used as office space today, will also be demolished for the new tower.

With a narrow lot, we’re getting a pretty thin tower compared to the current downtown Raleigh building stock. The parking entrance/exit will be along Morgan and the service/loading entrance is along Hargett. This shifts the ground-floor activity up and down Harrington Street. That seems necessary with a tower this size but is disappointing as Hargett was identified as a key pedestrian-retail street per the 2015 downtown plan.

Below is the view, from the site plan, staring at the tower from Harrington Street followed by the view from Hargett. (as if you’re looking at Legends’ front door)

That block will be pretty built up with over 600 homes, probably, when you include The Dawson and The Hue. Nearby, The Dillon has over 500 units and construction is starting on another residential tower over at the future Raleigh Union Station Bus Facility.

The latest news has construction starting at the Legends lot in early 2023.

A Walk Around the Char Grill Block

In June, the city’s neighborhood meeting calendar posted an update for a possible rezoning for properties along Hillsborough Street including the beloved local spot, Char Grill. The news picked it up. Comments were made. Opinions were everywhere.

To be clear, the rezoning request has not been submitted as of this writing but I want to mention two items right up front:

  • Char Grill owns their lot and plans to incorporate a Char Grill location in any new development
  • Comments from them suggest a thoughtful development with respect to any historic structures nearby

Instead of typing out comments online and looking at Google Maps (well I did some of that) it was time to get a steak junior and walk the block.

NOTE: I call it the “Char Grill Block” since that’s the most important thing there (let’s be honest) but not all properties are planned for a rezoning.

From the neighborhood meeting notes, the following properties seem to be targeted for rezoning. Char Grill is on the southern end about midway between Boylan and Glenwood.

Walk the Block

Let’s start with Char Grill and go clockwise around the map shown above. Since the rezoning application hasn’t been submitted yet, I’m also not going to get into possible heights and conditions today. Let’s just look at buildings.

Char Grill doesn’t need an introduction here. Open since 1959, the burger and fries spot has one of the best walk-up windows in downtown. It’s not exactly a drive-thru in the modern sense but plenty of space is given to parking also.

On the corner of Hillsborough and Boylan is a closed gas station. Built in 1952, it has gone through a variety of gas and car service brands. Today, it seems to be used for parking for nearby construction projects. When I was walking around, there is work going on for something in a retail space across the street at Bloc 83 and the workers were parking here.

Next is a gravel parking lot. Not much else to add here.

The environmental engineering firm Smith Gardner operates out of a few houses on this block also. Along Boylan, is this red brick house from 1910. Employees probably park in the adjacent lot.

At the corner of Boylan and Willard, we have Elmwood. Elmwood is a beautiful house from 1813 and is currently used as office space. Elmwood sits on the National Register of Historic Places. The side yard along Willard is a gravel parking lot.

Finally, there are two more 1910 homes along Willard being used as offices by Smith Gardner, shown above. Their backyards are basically gravel parking lots also. Turns out, all three houses that Smith Gardner is using is owned by the same company.

Speculation

No details are out there of what is going to be built, we’re not at that stage yet. I feel in the minority here as Elmwood, not Char Grill, is the property I’m most interested in with respect to any new developments. Of course, people are most distracted by the Char Grill being demolished, the youngest building mentioned in this post, but I’m in the camp that honestly thinks they could use an upgrade. (or at least a serious power wash)

For me, Char Grill’s walk-up window is fantastic. If the new development can get a Char Grill in there with an active walk-up window, some outdoor tables, and indoor seating like their newer locations, it’ll still be a hit.

Focusing on the older homes behind Char Grill, you can’t help admit that there is a lot of gravel parking spaces that could be used more efficiently. The brick building at 14 North Boylan could be moved to sit on Elmwood’s gravel lot. If you do that, you square up a nice property for some taller development. It could look something like this.

Again, just speculation but the houses can be saved and the red square in my sketch up here can be developed. If the houses continue to be office space, parking can be tucked inside the new development.

We’ll get back to this once the rezoning is submitted and discussion by planning commission and city council takes place. Until then, keep eating steak juniors.

New Office Developments Planned as part of Latest NC Budget

Adopted this July, the North Carolina Legislature’s 2022-2023 budget has a few items worth noting for the downtown government office complex. Probably the quietest part of downtown Raleigh, the government complex is a collection of office buildings housing many departments that work and support the state-level government.

In addition to a few museums and the legislature building itself, the complex still operates on a 9-5 kind of mentality compared to the mixed-use nature of Fayetteville Street for example. There’s zero ground-floor retail and very few adjacent housing units. Buildings are spread apart with generous front plazas and setbacks from the sidewalks.

Re-visiting the government complex is probably for another day. With the new NC budget, which you can view in great detail as part of House Bill 103 here, we may be seeing new buildings as well as the demolition of existing ones.

Downtown Education Campus

Talks of moving the UNC School System’s headquarters have been going on for a few years now. The move would put the offices into downtown Raleigh and out of Chapel Hill in a sort of Downtown Education Campus.

As the budget states, a new building would be built to house offices for the UNC system, Community Colleges System, Department of Public Instruction, and the Department of Commerce. On the surface, the rationale is to bring these departments closer together for operational efficiencies.

The targeted location for this building would be the Administration Building at 116 West Jones Street, shown above. Not only that, the existing building would be demolished with a new one built for the future education campus.

With the adoption of this budget, I take it plans are already underway to vacate this building with a deadline of July 1, 2023 and a demolition date before Oct 31, 2023.

The Administration Building was built in 1967 and is the only building on this block. It has surface parking on the northern end and is predominantly office space across its five floors. I don’t have a sense of how much space the new education campus needs but with an entire block zoned for 12 stories, there should be plenty of space for a mix of uses, even a green, outdoor space.

Executive Headquarters

Requiring no demolition, a new building for the governor’s staff is also mentioned in the budget. The building for “the governor’s staff, state agency personnel and operations and chamber for Council of State meetings” should land somewhere in the parking lot across from the History Museum along Wilmington Street.

Planning and design will start soon because the budget also has a construction start date of July 1, 2023. The surface parking lots are zoned for up to 12 stories of development.

I also want to add that these initiatives executed by the state seem to follow a different development path than what I’m used to. Will we actually see demolition and construction on these dates? I have no idea.

On one hand, it’s a big budget machine that probably just executes without thinking so it’ll likely get done no matter the economic, political, or financial status of the day. On the other, I feel there’s always some way to delay or cancel things. We’ll just wait and see.

In addition to these bigger developments, instead of renovations, the Bath Building on Wilmington Street (shown in the top photo) is set to be demolished. Now I’m no architect but I’m told that the Bath building may be Raleigh’s best example of brutalist architecture. Worth saving? I’ll let you decide but the state doesn’t have a good track record here I feel.

There’s also about $5 million for renovations for the Old Revenue Building on Salisbury Street. I bet that’s for interior work as the outside is still looking pretty classic.

Pic of the Week

For those who want more green buildings around downtown Raleigh, sadly the condos at 615 West Peace Street will not be working out for you. The building is getting closer to completion and bricks should be going up as you are reading this post.

Condo buildings like this are a rare specimen these days. It might be worth checking back in and seeing how it did in the end once it opens up later this year or next.