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Infill or Overkill?

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Is it only happenstance that the Triangle's latest mega-development, targeted on the Cameron Village and Oberlin Village neighborhoods of Raleigh, is coming at the holiday season? That's not what neighborhood leaders think as they scramble to organize for a Jan. 16 public hearing at City Hall on the blandly named "Wade Avenue Project."

Since lead developer C. Neal Coker declined to give the thing a name worth remembering, its opponents have batted around the question of what to call it. This being Raleigh, "Coker's Chaos" was thought to be too, well, ugly, and "Coker's Folly" too personal. "Coker's Towers" seems to be the name catching on.

I can report this authoritatively, being a member of the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association, which voted last week 22 to 0 against the project and in favor of insisting that the City Council allow a small-area planning process before any rezoning.

Southpoint, now under construction, is a 1.3 million square-foot project, similar in scale to Crabtree Valley Mall. Coker's Towers is 1.6 million square feet. The former is going in on a 141-acre site. The latter: just 15 acres. Coker calls his project "urban infill"--a high-end mix of retail space, offices and condominiums in buildings up to 16 stories and 220 feet high. To Parker Call, co-chair of the citizens' group Vision 2020, it's "urban overkill," because it will overwhelm adjoining neighborhoods with traffic, forcing Oberlin Road to be widened. The domino effect will take out Oberlin Village, a community of modest homes founded by free blacks after the Civil War, just as Southpoint Mall has obliterated the nearby residential community.

The Jan. 16 hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m., is key, since afterward the project enters a kind of underground status with the Raleigh planning commission, which meets--conveniently for developers, inconveniently for everyone else--on weekday mornings. Several neighborhood groups are meeting together Monday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. at Wilson Temple United Methodist Church, 1021 Oberlin Road, to discuss the project.

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