Hillsborough Street report calls for allowing taller buildings

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2014 

— New development along Hillsborough Street will require taller buildings than current zoning allows, according to an economic report released this month.

The Hillsborough Street Community Services Corp., which is funded by a special property tax, commissioned the economic development study in 2012. Consultants studied several potential redevelopment sites to determine what’s needed to make new construction financially feasible.

The report said the street won’t see much change without rezoning property to allow taller buildings.

“This places significant restrictions on the potential to develop properties on Hillsborough Street, and in most cases makes them financially infeasible,” the report says. “Most of the properties within the study area are already developed with income-producing businesses, and removing two and three-story structures to build new three-story structures does not prove to be economically viable.”

The report was released amid a debate over a proposed seven-story student apartment building. Some neighbors and city leaders think the development – on the current site of Two Guys Pizza – should be limited to five stories.

A city council committee was split over the project Wednesday. Councilman Thomas Crowder said the city should stick to the five-story rule, which is spelled out in planning guidelines for the area. “When you start going outside the box, those have impacts on neighborhoods,” he said. “I do not see this as a public benefit to make such a drastic change to set a precedent.”

The economic study found that the close proximity to residential neighborhoods is a limiting factor for Hillsborough Street, as many of the storefront buildings back up to homes on Vanderbilt Avenue. The consultants suggest creating a transitional area between Hillsborough and Clark Avenue, where most houses are student rentals.

The recommendation calls for “small neighborhood businesses and start-up companies to invest within this zone, improving existing properties and creating a mix of compatible uses such as doctors’ offices, galleries and professional offices.”

The current single-family zoning along Vanderbilt creates a buffer zone on the adjacent property line. That prevents new construction from coming close to the property line.

Ted Van Dyk – an architect who serves on the Hillsborough Street board and has designed developments there – said the limitations have kept much of the street unchanged for decades despite interest from developers. “It’s hard to do a project anywhere up and down Hillsborough Street,” he said.

Van Dyk recently designed a mixed-use student apartment building that houses Saxby’s Coffee, and he says it likely wouldn’t have been built under new zoning requirements. The buffer zone would have shaved off several of the rear apartments, he said.

The economic report also highlights the shortage of parking along Hillsborough. It says Raleigh needs to develop a plan for “shared, municipal parking structures to support small businesses, residential projects and other new development without adversely affecting nearby residential neighborhoods.”

Without adequate parking, Van Dyk said new apartments on Hillsborough will primarily attract N.C. State students who don’t need a car.

The Hillsborough Street Community Services Corp. board stressed that it’s not endorsing any of the recommendations in the report. Board members recently asked the Raleigh City Council to launch a new visioning process that would bring together businesses, university officials and neighbors to help guide future development. The current visioning document was approved in 1999.

“We’re trying to make these decisions one at a time without having an updated vision,” Van Dyk said. “The world was a lot different in 1999 than it is now.”

In the short term, neighbors and city leaders will continue to debate the seven-story proposal, dubbed Hillsborough Lofts. On Wednesday, Crowder and Councilman Russ Stephenson voiced support for the five-story limit. The Wade Citizens Advisory Council 53-11 against the project, though members said they’d support a five-story proposal.

But another group, Raleigh YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), says it’s gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition backing the project, including many residents along Vanderbilt. “The current environment for zoning is not conducive to a positive, pedestrian-friendly development,” said Seth Hollar, who leads the group.

Councilmen Bonner Gaylord and Eugene Weeks also spoke in favor of the seven-story proposal. “We have a choice of continuing to grow out or grow up, and to that end, generally I think we should lean toward more intense, transit-friendly development,” Gaylord said. “The immediate neighbors are in support of it, and to me that carries the greatest amount of weight.”

The proposal heads to a public hearing before the full city council on June 3.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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