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The score in Raleigh: Developers 2, Neighbors 1

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Before we get you up to date on Raleigh's rezoning fights, let's pause to reflect on the instructive case of the North Hills Neighborhood Association and developer John Kane's plans for rebuilding North Hills Mall. When it landed on the City Council's agenda this month, Raleigh Planning Commission Chair Richard "Dickie" Thompson complimented Kane for "going out of his way" to be available to the neighbors and city officials. Mayor Charles Meeker hastened to add that the neighbors should be complimented too.

That was the last good thing the neighbors heard.

This was not a rezoning case, of course. North Hills Mall, on both sides of Lassiter Mill Road, has been zoned for high-density development since the '60s. Nor did the neighborhood association have any problem with Kane's basic plan, which was to get more on the site by going taller. All the neighbors asked, said Bert Rosefield, the association's president, was that Kane--on the west side of the road, where their houses are--"make an appropriately scaled transition to the neighborhood."

Specifically, they objected to Kane's plan to build a four-story condominium building in a buffer zone along Pamlico Drive established when the mall was approved in 1965. What Kane was proposing was "a continuous wall" 720 feet long and 55 feet high built atop a hill that rises as much as 24 feet above their one- and two-story houses on the other side of the street, they pointed out. That would violate the city's comprehensive plan (or, depending on your point of view, merely require that it be amended) and also run counter to the city's new Urban Design Guidelines, which call for" (an) appropriate transition from residential neighborhoods to the mixed-use center."

Ahem.

Rosefield asked the Council to get behind the neighbors' alternative, "win-win" proposal. They weren't asking Kane to eliminate the condos, only rearrange them so they'd be different heights, but generally shorter, and farther back from the street on the neighborhood side of the project. They could be taller on the interior side, he said.

In an even voice, Rosefield reminded the Council that his group hadn't put up signs, fired off emails or packed meetings to get their way. Instead, they'd acted in the spirit of Meeker's "New Era of Cooperation," negotiating quietly with Kane and resolving as many issues as they could. "We have behaved as requested," Rosefield said. If the Council nonetheless approved Kane's site plan without protecting their interests, it would send a message to neighborhoods throughout Raleigh that only "negative behaviors" win positive outcomes. "We all know how the Oberlin and Wayward Farm were stopped."

In response, Kane said he needed to get more density on the site "to make the numbers work."

The vote: 8-0 for Kane.

DiamondDiamondDiamondNumbers and Negative Behaviors. On the trio of rezoning cases we highlighted a few weeks ago (Citizen, "Smart Growth Questions," Oct. 30), the score is Developers 1, Neighborhoods 1, with one still hanging fire.

Developer Val Valentine's Stanhope project was a winner, blessed by the City Council 8-0 despite the fact that it was radically different from what was called for in a small-area plan the council just approved. Neighbors in the Stanhope community (off Hillsborough Street) wanted to avoid a "monoculture" of only student housing and a parking deck, which is exactly what the council approved. The small-area plan said Valentine should be required to mix some of the condos and retail space the neighbors wanted along with the dorm-and-deck he wanted.

But when Valentine said he "couldn't make the numbers work" for the other stuff just yet, and also needed the dorm and deck to be bigger than was called for in the plan, the council threw up its hands.

If Valentine makes enough money now, members said, it would "incentivize him" to build the rest later. Right.

All of which prompted Councilor Janet Cowell to complain that the city needed an economist to analyze projects like Valentine's, since developers never show anybody their "numbers" and the city has none of its own.

Neighbors, though, prevailed 8-0 in the Wayward Farm case, a mixed-use development on a 56-acre tract in North Raleigh. They did so by packing many meetings, inundating council members with calls and e-mails, and using what Councilor Kieran Shanahan huffed were "anti-Coker" tactics of the same kind that, as the North Hills folks said, above, sunk developer Neal Coker's original Oberlin project last year.

Still to be decided: Coker II, which is on the docket for December. Meeker is trying to broker a compromise. Former Councilor Geoff Elting, a Meeker ally, says that if the Council approves a plan that doesn't conform to the Urban Design Guidelines--and, so far, it doesn't--he's ready to take the case to court.

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Bob Geary can be reached at rjgeary@aol.com. If he's at an awards dinner, he'll get back to you later.

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