Raleigh development code overhaul gets final OK

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

— Starting Sept. 1, developers in Raleigh will have a new set of rules governing everything from the size of parking lots to the heights of buildings.

The Raleigh City Council signed off Monday on the final draft of the unified development ordinance, which has been in the works for years. The overhaul aims to scrap the old suburban model in favor of rules that foster a walkable, transit-friendly city with a number of high-density, mixed-use districts.

The guidelines – far more specific than current rules – are expected to reduce the need for contentious negotiations between developers and neighbors. The council members had a particular development controversy in mind as they added a final provision before Monday’s vote.

Earlier this year, neighbors were upset that a proposed apartment development on Oberlin Road was planning a rear driveway on Daniels Street, which runs through a residential neighborhood. The driveway plan was dropped, but Cameron Village neighbors want the new code to ban similar proposals in the future.

Sallie Ricks was among the residents who wrote to the council. “Dumping large amounts of traffic on a few neighborhood streets adjacent to new development will erode the quality of life of those people who live there,” she wrote.

But Jim Belt, president of the Downtown Living Advocates, cautioned that rigid driveway rules could make it harder to build mixed-use developments.

“I see it as unfair to associate and whip up the fear of ‘cut-throughs’ among the public on this issue,” Belt wrote to Councilman Russ Stephenson, who encouraged residents by email to voice their concerns. The downtown leader added that he’s “concerned that this fear is being used to stifle mixed-use development along appropriate corridors in the city.”

The debate over driveway access rules stoked a perennial divide in Raleigh’s older neighborhoods. Residents who often oppose new developments sought the restrictions, while others urged caution. Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin asked for a review of “unintended consequences.”

In emails to neighborhood groups, Stephenson lashed out at Will Allen – often seen as a proponent of development – for forwarding Belt’s letters without permission to a listserv. The emails are public records, as they were sent to council members.

“Individuals who are certain of their correctness and seek to discredit others only make it harder to arrive at our destination,” Stephenson wrote.

The final rules for driveway access differed slightly from what Stephenson had proposed, giving developers a bit more flexibility.

Following city planners’ recommendation, the council voted to ban vehicle access to neighborhood streets from apartments and commercial developments unless the driveways are close to a major intersection. But there’s an exemption for properties without any other available access point.

Planner Travis Crane noted that the city already has rules for a scenario Stephenson and Crowder described: developers buying a residential lot behind their property for a cut-through. “We have standards today that would prohibit that,” he said. “You can’t develop a shopping center and gain access through a residential property. There has to be a rezoning.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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