by Bob Geary
On Urban Planet's TriangleNC forum, the post-mortems are coming in for the Soleil Center, the 42-story glass tower o' condos atop a hotel at Crabtree Valley that some said would be the greatest thing to happen in Raleigh since Crabtree Valley itself was built in the middle of a flood plain, though others had their doubts.
Now, some say it's the credit crunch that killed the Soleil (nee: Glen Tree). Others, however, note that this thing was approved three years ago, when life was good and credit easy -- yet the condos couldn't be sold. Must be the unwalkable suburban location, they say. Well then, comes the rejoinder, what about all the condos proposed to be built in and around the downtown -- also in good times -- that never happened either?
Just a thought, but what if Raleigh didn't approve every high-rise condo proposal that the developers pitch, regardless where it is? What if, instead, the city insisted that high-rise buildings be located in close (i.e., within 1/4 mile) proximity to a future commuter-rail transit station?
Developers haven't wanted to build in those locations because -- duh -- it's not clear when, if ever, the commuter-rail stations will materialize. But a big reason they don't materialize is that developers are allowed instead -- encouraged, in fact -- to throw up high-rises everywhere but in those locations. Or try to throw them up. Without supportive transit in walkable locations, guess what? They don't sell.
And with so many high-rise projects competing for a limited pool of potential high-rise condo buyers, most never come out of the ground -- that's the Raleigh experience, anyway.
But what if, instead of dueling 42-story towers in pretend transit locations like Crabtree Valley, the city actually designated a real transit route, allowed high-density there, and enforced reasonable height and density limits elsewhere -- at least until such time as the first transit route is functioning and a second one can be designated?
Chicken and egg. Transit requires density. Density demands transit. But which comes first in a city built to sprawl? (Answer below.)