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Five stories or seven stories?
That’s the question at the heart of a conflict over the latest student apartment building proposed for Hillsborough Street.
Val Valentine wants the city’s permission for a taller building than previously approved as part of the Stanhope Center, a community of apartments next to N.C. State University.
Valentine proposes a seven-story building at the corner of Hillsborough and Concord Street, instead of the three stories allowed under current zoning.
That’s a dangerous idea, neighbors say. It’s also the latest flare-up in a controversy that dates back to the earliest stages of Stanhope.
This time, opponents say a seven-story building could set a precedent for future development along Hillsborough Street, which is experiencing a wave of reinvestment fueled by demand for urban living and off-campus housing to serve N.C. State students.
The building boom shouldn’t come at the expense of established neighborhoods, opponents contend. At seven stories, or 79 feet, this would be the tallest building to sit directly on Hillsborough Street, and it would stand out among surrounding low-rise buildings.
Chuck Grantham, who owns a building across from the proposed apartments, said neighbors would be subjected to a “grand canyon right through Hillsborough Street.”
“The street is already so narrow already, that canyon effect really would be created,” said Clodagh Bastion, a member of the University Park homeowners association.
The City Council’s comprehensive planning committee sided with neighbors last week, saying seven stories is too tall.
The committee said it would be OK with a five-story height. The team representing Valentine asked for time to consider its next steps, and the committee agreed to hear the issue again at the next meeting Jan. 9.
Developers offer concessions
Valentine’s representatives emphasized that he isn’t asking to change the overall number of residences in the community, which is allowed up to 520 units under a master plan approved by the city. He just wants put more of them in this particular building.
With some engineering work, the building would look the same as five stories, said Robin Currin, an attorney who represents Valentine. That’s in part because the topography of the site puts it slightly below street level. The ceilings would also be lower.
Earlier this year, Valentine floated the idea of nine stories before scaling back his request. The idea all along has been to serve N.C. State’s growing student population while also fulfilling the city’s goal of more density along Hillsborough Street to prepare for the eventual arrival of a light-rail line.
“The hope is to bring more pedestrian activity to this area,” Currin said.
A five-story building anchored by a Kerr Drug is slated to break ground in March, Currin said Wednesday night. That building was approved for a 75-foot height.
The Stanhope project has been controversial from the start. Valentine keeps asking for larger buildings, many neighbors say.
Councilman Bonner Gaylord said he’s OK with the latest proposal from Valentine because it will essentially match the Kerr Drug building.
“I understand there’s some challenges with it,” Gaylord said. “I don’t see how with an approval adjacent to it of 75 feet, we could deny this fairly.”
Council members Russ Stephenson and Randy Stagner felt differently.
“There’s a big difference between five stories and seven stories,” Stephenson said.