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Proposed Development Sparks Concern, Spirited Debate

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RALEIGH — Residents of the Oberlin area in Raleigh know that growth is inevitable. But they want a voice in deciding how theirneighborhood should grow. They are not sure they are getting it with a proposed development.

Wendy Michener says the development critics call "Coker Towers" does not belong in her backyard. Developer Neal Cokerwants to build condos, offices, and retail space on the property at Wade and Oberlin.

"He's planning on putting a below-grade parking lot," says Michener. "On top of that is a plaza, with large buildingsaround the plaza."

Anti-development signs started popping up around town after hundreds of Raleigh residents organized to fight the project.Coker scaled back his plans, but critics say is still does not fit inthis neighborhood.

David Stein is one of five experts who met with residents Saturday to talk about smart growth.

"The neighborhood would be much more willing to accept a radical change if they had a hand in developing that change," says Stein.

The panelists agree that cities can have high-density development without building high-rises. They think a project like Coker's could be good for Raleigh, but they say it makes sense to consult with residents like Elizabeth Cofield, who has lived in the Oberlin area for 38 years.

"It seems to me there must be some discussion, if not complete agreement, certainly some discussion with those who are going to be most affected," says Cofield.

Some neighbors say they are not trying to stop the Coker project altogether. They just want to see it scaled down, or built in another part of town. The Raleigh city council could make a decision on whether to approve Coker's plan in a few weeks.