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Raleigh 2030 plan up for scrutiny

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The draft of Raleigh's 2030 Comprehensive Plan drew questions two days before its official roll-out.

Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson, the two City Council members who served previously on the planning commission and are best-versed in the vocabulary of land-use issues, were busy Monday flipping back and forth between the document's visionary summaries ("quick guides") and its 380 pages of policy detail, trying to match the latter with the former and scratching their heads.

The plan, 18 months in the making, was produced by Planning Director Mitch Silver, his staff and consultants. It's now out for public comment through the end of January. After that, it will go to the planning commission for review and recommended changes. Final action on the plan, including any amendments, is up to the council.

Crowder liked the plan's "general framework," which emphasizes sustainable development patterns, coordinating land uses and transportation options, and curbing sprawl. He questioned, though, whether the specific policies it proposes are strong enough to achieve its visionary objectives.

Raleigh 2030, he noted, would discard many of the small-area plans developed by neighborhood groups over the years and incorporated into the existing comprehensive plan by the council. It would also toss the city's urban design guidelines—contextual standards for fitting dense, mixed-use developments into established neighborhood settings.

The best ideas in the small-area plans and the urban design guidelines are "integrated" into the 2030 plan, the new plan states.

But Crowder wondered whether the "balance" struck in the existing plans between density "bonuses" for developers and the contextual quality standards they were supposed to meet to obtain them has been lost in a drive to build bigger in older neighborhoods.

Stephenson was studying the seven "growth centers" identified in the plan (in addition to the downtown area, which gets its own "regional center" treatment).

The seven include the North Hills or "Midtown" area, where recent rezonings have permitted buildings up to 35 stories in height. The plan cites North Hills as a model for the other six "significant opportunities for new residential and economic development ... generally in locations with combined highway and targeted transit access."

That worries Stephenson, who thinks the seven are more dissimilar than not: "If they all end up having the same character" in the plan, he said, "that's going to be problematic."

The other six are: West Raleigh (the fairgrounds area); Crabtree Valley; Cameron/University (Cameron Village); Triangle Town Center; Brier Creek; and New Bern/ Wake Med.

Both councilors emphasized that they'd just begun to vet the plan and needed to study it in much more detail, especially its policies on:

  • Downtown development, including the idea to expand the limits of the downtown area—where building heights and densities are virtually unlimited—to the south, west and east, pushing it through or up against such older neighborhoods as Caraleigh, Cameron Park and South Park.

  • Transit routes: The plan identifies 29 "multimodal" transit corridors, plus the long-proposed commuter rail corridor that would connect the fairgrounds to N.C. State, the downtown area and Northeast Raleigh. Given how limited the city's bus system is now, scattering "transit" routes—along with high-density developments—may amount to a new kind of disconnected sprawl.

  • Affordable housing: The proposed policies would require diverse housing choices to be including in high-density developments only if a rail transit station is close by. On other supposed transit corridors, the plan calls for as-yet undefined incentives to "encourage" such developments.

Crowder said he thinks the official comment period, now slated to end Jan. 31, should be extended given the complexity of the plan and the intervening holidays.

The planning department will unveil the Raleigh 2030 plan and answer questions Wednesday, Dec. 3, at the Raleigh Convention Center, 7-9 p.m. Public feedback sessions are scheduled in January. For details, see www.planningraleigh2030.com.

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