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Raleigh Wide Open 2

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Raleigh Wide Open was fabulous a year ago—70,000 folks downtown to celebrate the reopening of Fayetteville Street, remember? Amazing. So why not repeat it, which Raleigh will do Saturday with a bigger, if not better, RWO 2. No snark there, because it can't be better than the original, which was the night Raleigh's citizens realized just how much they wanted—and their fellow citizens wanted, and the region's citizens wanted—for Raleigh to be a really great city.

Anyway, there'll be music on two stages starting at noon and ending just before the fireworks at 10:45 p.m. Assuming the fireworks will equal last year's, do not miss them. I'm also a fan of Kickin' Grass (bluegrass), who take the main stage at 3:25 p.m. The parade's at 6 p.m.. Last year, a breeze picked up around then and Fayetteville Street, with its tall buildings, blessedly turned into a wind tunnel. Hope that happens again. Check the city's Web site for a lot of other stuff.

I took a quick walk the other day to remind myself what's new downtown since last year. Fayetteville Street isn't wide open and won't be until 2008. It still stops four blocks down from the Capitol, leaving it three blocks short of Memorial Auditorium (in the Progress Energy Center). Go as far as you can, though, and you'll see the underground parking under construction, the 17-story Marriott Hotel in nearly full form, and the Raleigh Convention Center's steel frame facing the back of the hotel from across Salisbury Street.

(The back of it? Oddly, yes. See what you think of the Marriott's design. Some of us had issues with it—thought that for our $20 million taxpayers' subsidy, Raleigh could've done better. But henceforth, the RWO week shall be that time of year when we cheer our new developments and forgo saying what they shoulda-been.)

Facing the front of the Marriott from across Fayetteville Street is our city-owned Site 1, which, if the developers Raleigh picked can pull it off, will be the next big thing downtown, and maybe the best. Two towers, 20 and 14 stories, with retail, movies (maybe—high hopes), offices and condos.

Just north of that, if you don't know, is the much-debated "City Plaza" site. A flexible outdoor retail or celebration space that doesn't, however, block the traffic flow, and does have cool lights and a video wall, is the idea now. North of that, the 10-story concrete shell on Fayetteville Street will eventually be Raleigh's tallest building, at 31 stories, and home to the RBC corporation's U.S. headquarters. Walk east on Martin Street, and you'll pass the next next big thing. Progress Energy owns almost all of the block bounded by Martin (on the north) and Davie (south) streets, between Wilmington Street and City Market. Planned: a 1,240-space, eight-level parking deck running east-west through the middle of the block, with flanking towers facing Martin and Davie of 15, 20, 30 stories—Raleigh's wide open, after all.

And for downtown development especially, but Crabtree Valley, North Hills and elsewhere, too, the sky's the limit.

For information on the best tacos, quesadillas and tortas at RWO 2, see page 19.

Double-density, everyone?

Speaking of wide open, mark your calendars, Raleigh planning fans, for next Tuesday, July 24, 7 p.m. in City Hall. That's when the City Council and the Planning Commission will hold their kick-off hearing on the innocuous-sounding ordinance amendment also known as "double-density."

Veterans of the Coker Towers battles will remember this one. Double-density is the idea that, for tracts zoned Office & Institutional-1, you don't have to choose either the maximum allowable office space or the maximum number of residential units allowed; with d-d, you can have both! Why not? said the Raleigh planning staff, eager to usher in a big ol' project on the Coker site (at Wade and Oberlin). Because it's illegal, ruled the city Board of Adjustment—but only after Coker foes hired an out-of-town lawyer and challenged the planning staff's, er, creative interpretation.

Seven years later, we have a new planning director, Mitch Silver, and he likes double-density too. (He says Raleigh's going to run out of open space in about 20 years, so time to build up.) So he's drafted an amendment overruling the Board of Adjustment, in effect, for every O&I-1 tract in Raleigh. How many is that? He'll have the number, and locations, at the hearing, Silver promised. And would that really be everywhere, or just in the so-called "focus areas" listed by the comprehensive plan, as Mayor Charles Meeker suggested? That'll be something to talk about, Silver said, along with possible height limits, FARs (short for floor-area ratio, a way of limiting square footage per acre), and any and all other ideas for shielding neighborhoods from inappropriately oversized O&I developments.

But as written, the proposed amendment is wide open.

And what of the 18 Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs), which sometimes oppose the best-laid plans of oversized development? They'd like more cooperation from the city, which is supposed to give them staff help. But for three years now, a majority of City Council members—the ones wide open on development—have turned a deaf ear. More on that debate next time.

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