For years, residents of Raleigh's older neighborhoods have gotten McMansion shock when small houses were scraped off to be replaced by towering edifices.
Now, residents of a North Hills neighborhood want the city to do something about it by requiring larger lot sizes and wider frontages for new homes. On Tuesday, city council members set a February 6 public hearing on the change. City planners say it would preserve the area's look and feel but could drive up housing costs.
"I am new to the neighborhood. I want to preserve what we have," said a speaker quoted in minutes of the November 27 Midtown CAC meeting. "I love to walk on the street and look at the trees. We need to keep it."
Members of the neighborhood group voted 39–6 in favor of the North Hills neighborhood conservation overlay district, or NCOD. Northbrook Drive, Tyrell Road, Yadkin Drive, I-440, Lassiter Mill Road, and Gates Street form the borders of an affected area of about 175 acres.
Under the plan, technically a text change to a city ordinance, minimum lot size would rise to roughly three units per acre instead of the four allowed by the current R-4 zoning. The minimum width of lots would rise from 65 to 90 feet, and from 80 to 110 feet for a corner lot.
"Tear-downs would be discouraged by the request because proposed standards reduce the ability to further subdivide existing lots," city planners said in a presentation to the council.
Members of the Midtown Citizen Advisory Council started looking into the change when a lot in the neighborhood was torn down and two took its place. They gathered more than two hundred signatures before convincing the city council to authorize a study of the area to see if what's called down-zoning would work there. The city planning commission recommended it on a unanimous vote.
It might seem odd to make an entire neighborhood less dense, and likely more expensive, at a time when city and county leaders are emphasizing affordable housing and increased density to support mass transit.
"The current development pattern is not especially transit-supportive, and the request would decrease potential ridership on nearby transit routes," planners said in their analysis.
In addition, the planning department's presentation said, the move to push out infill would increase development of "greenfield" sites, or rural, undeveloped land. And the increased lot size could "have the impact of inducing construction of larger, more expensive homes that are less accessible to residents with a mix of incomes."
But planners also note that the plan will preserve the character of a stable area of single-family homes, including some dating to the mid-century modern era.
Residents of the area, which touches the North Hills commercial development and the 440 Beltline, mostly spoke in favor of the plan at the CAC meeting. Proponents and city planner John Hardin fielded a number of questions until resident Amy Bullington cited the effort and meetings she and others had gone through to get to a vote.
"We had open meetings and we listened," Bullington said during the meeting. "Residents have been encouraged to personally contact city council and so many sent positive remarks that council followed the 'will of the neighborhood' and voted that city of Raleigh staff would take over the final step in the process."
At Tuesday's meetings, council members took only a minute or two to recommend the policy for public discussion at the February meeting, a necessary precursor to its potential adoption.