Will we always have Paris?

Maybe Town Council’s next intercity visit should be to Paris, a city that Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane cited as her favorite because of its low buildings.

At council’s Nov. 15 meeting, we reviewed a concept plan for a 5-story building of apartments, offices and retail, with 68 parking spaces on less than 4 acres at 1150 S. Columbia St., across the street from Merritt’s Grill.

The site is an awkward one, at best. Bordered on one side by a stream that just barely qualifies as perennial, the building envelope is further constrained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, which has not yet made up its mind about what type of improvements it wants to make to the interchange where S. Columbia Street turns into U.S. 15-501 and crosses the point where Fordham Boulevard turns into N.C. 54.

Several years ago, N.C. DOT reportedly paid the property owner $575,000 to compensate for enough right of way to build a cloverleaf, but that construction has yet to materialize. More recently, during the Obey Creek development agreement approval process, N.C. DOT put forth an option that wouldn’t impinge much on the S. Columbia Street parcel. But N.C. DOT won’t give the property owner a definitive answer on what it wants to do.

The parcel also is surrounded on three sides by neighborhoods of modest single-family houses. (The fourth side being the four-lane road.) Given their proximity to campus, quite a few of the homes are student rentals. Town planning staff seem cavalier about enabling a developer to place what by comparison would be a high-rise in the midst of a residential neighborhood, even though other administrators claim that such upzoning is not allowed in residential areas. (1150 S. Columbia St. is zoned R-2, essentially one house per quarter acre.)

The developer upped his commitment to affordable housing at the meeting. I believe he offered six of the 39 apartments to be affordable, half to those making 85% of the AMI and half at 100% AMI. This falls short of the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that 15% of owner-occupied units be affordable, half to those at 65% of AMI and half to those at 80% AMI. The state prevents any restrictions on rent, so we can’t insist on affordability for rentals.

While I’m sympathetic to a property owner wanting to maximize his profits, I have to ask at what cost to his neighbors’ quality of life. Our council goals specify creating “A place for everyone,” and that includes people who do not aspire to ever-grander, more expensive housing. By allowing high-rises to intrude into pockets of small houses, we discount the quality-of-life of those who choose to live modestly.

A three-story office or apartment building might be appropriate for that parcel, but a five-story complex would change the character of the neighborhood. We have areas of town where five-story buildings fit in. Let’s redirect concentrated growth there.

Diners at the café tables outside Merritt’s may order BLT’s and sweet tea, not croissants and cafe au lait, but they still can enjoy the ambience of Paris.
— Nancy Oates

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1 Comment

  1. bart

     /  December 2, 2017

    I said much the same about 54 B(East), and the cramming in continues.

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