At a public meeting last Thursday at the John Chavis Community Center in southeast Raleigh, one resident lamented the ongoing changes to some of the city's historic neighborhoods, areas where old houses and trees have been cut down to make way for new and bigger homes that don't always jibe with the rest of the neighborhood.
"The character of the city is changing immensely," she said. "I know the city has to grow its tax base, but it seems like Raleigh isn't Raleigh anymore."
This is a refrain you hear often in meetings like this, one in a series designed to explain the planned updates to the city's 2030 Comprehensive Plan. These updates were crafted to keep pace with the rapid growth the city has undergone since the original comp plan was passed in 2009. That growth is only going to intensify, with Raleigh's population projected to increase by 62 percent between 2010 and 2040.
The comprehensive plan isn't a binding ordinance but rather a "great vision document about what we want to do with the city," as city council member Russ Stephenson puts it. After public workshops last March, the city identified ten areas in which the comp plan needed to be amended, including an increased emphasis on more reliable bus routes, affordable housing, and water conservation.
City planner Ken Bowers presented these changes to a crowd of about a dozen at Chavis on Thursday. This was a considerably bigger crowd than the first of these meetings, held last Tuesday night at Carolina Pines Community Center; that meeting had only one attendee. Bowers told the INDY that low attendance suggests public satisfaction. Perhaps. But the city thought the same last year when only eighteen hundred people responded to forty-five thousand postcards it mailed out seeking comment on the unified development ordinance. As the angry overflow crowds that packed two public hearings last summer demonstrated, that assumption was mistaken.
It's no secret that many residents—especially those who've lived in Raleigh for decades—view the city's plans with skepticism, fearing that their neighborhoods' character might be subsumed by waves of development. And Bowers can only do so much to calm their nerves.
"The comprehensive plan can do a lot of good for the city, but one thing it cannot do is freeze Raleigh in time," Bowers says. "Powerful demographic and market forces are at play that will impact how people live and work, and it would be foolish to think that Raleigh is immune to these trends."
The final community meeting is 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Millbrook Community Center.