It is no secret that Raleigh is growing, a lot. The growth has created a competitive housing market and a shortage of rental units in cities across the U.S. To accommodate new residents, Raleigh needs a steady stream of developers building. To many, the development is in opposition to preserving the beautiful historic buildings across the city. There is an opportunity for compromise, where Raleigh can engage in both building and preservation.
Charlotte can provide a cautionary tale for Raleigh. The city is more populous than Raleigh and currently the center for more major companies. The city has engaged in a dizzying amount of demolition of historic buildings. The process to register historic landmarks is lengthy and difficult for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. They also only can delay landmark demolitions a year to try to reach a compromise for preservation.
In a show of Raleigh's commitment to historic preservation, the city hired the firm PlaceEconomics in 2018 to create a historic preservation toolkit for the city going forward. All of Raleigh’s historic districts, like Oakwood and Glenwood, already implement mixed-use zoning — which is a positive decision Raleigh should continue. The flexibility of this kind of zoning allows for lots of local character, a dense population and room for the areas to change as needed.
PlaceEconomics also encouraged Raleigh to create more incentives for developers to preserve parts of original buildings when they are embarking on construction. Height bonuses were also recommended; they allow for taller buildings than the zoning rules typically permit, which can increase the concentration of housing in an area while leaving historic properties untouched.
There is no better example of the controversy surrounding preserving a landmark from a developer’s wrecking ball than Seaboard Station in 2022, but the city was able to use its tools to reach a compromise.
The 80-year-old train station had served as one of the surrounding neighborhood’s favorite cafes and plant shops while preserving its historic structure. When the city released plans to demolish the building for two apartment towers, there was a major outcry from the community. Over 100 people attended the neighborhood meeting to oppose the plan.
Raleigh City Council held off on rezoning the area and allowing the demolition until the development firm, Turnbridge Equities, agreed to preserve and relocate at least 50% of Seaboard Station to a new location nearby on Peace Street. Activists were satisfied with the decision and the proximity of the beautiful building.
Turnbridge has experience respecting history while building. They have plans to build a mixed-use apartment and retail spaces on Glenwood Avenue surrounding the historic Pine State Creamery building. The new building’s materials will be cohesive with the historic structure, a decision the community has supported.
The property where local restaurant Char-Grill is located has been purchased by a firm to develop into a 20-story mixed-use apartment building. Char-Grill will continue to operate on the ground floor of the new building once construction is complete. Some residents in the area are concerned about how this new luxury building will change their area and contribute to downtown’s already pricey rental market.
None of these new developments will indeed be affordable to the average resident of Raleigh. While there is history connected to Seaboard Station, the Creamery and Char-Grill, these buildings were not doing anything to solve the rental shortage in Raleigh.
Many experts believe the rental housing crisis is fundamentally a supply problem. There isn’t anything city leaders can do to block the increasing supply of renters moving to Raleigh, so they have to work quickly to increase the supply of apartments. This means Raleigh has to work with developers to get more buildings underway. The City Council has now shown a good track record of walking the thin tightrope between preserving history and encouraging development.
Affordability is still a valid concern for residents. People of all incomes should have access to the increased well-being and character of a mixed-use, historic neighborhood. PlaceEconomics shared many tools Raleigh can use to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing, including reducing parking requirements, expediting the permitting process and waiving fees.
Raleigh’s city leaders have done a good job appeasing both history-loving residents and developers with these recent zoning decisions, but they must now create an aggressive strategy to incentivize the creation of affordable housing across the city.
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