Local Politics

Raleigh councilman criticizes process that allowed senior community near Crabtree Valley Mall

Posted November 11, 2021 3:51 p.m. EST

— After fighting for months against plans to develop a 5-acre site near Crabtree Valley Mall, residents of a north Raleigh neighborhood are disappointed the Raleigh City Council has approved plans for a 185-unit senior living community there.

The project is a far cry from from the initial plans for a seven-story, mixed-used building with 350 residential units, but residents who live on Philcrest and Inman Park drives, off Lead Mine Road, say the four-story building that the council approved last week is still a bad fit for the neighborhood.

"With such a large development on this site, we’re really concerned about the safety of the residents in the area," said April Gross, an organizer of the group Stop Lead Mine Tower. "Many people who I speak to don’t believe this is real, that you can really put such a tall building right behind homes like this."

Even though the City Council's Safe, Vibrant, & Healthy Community Committee recommended against rezoning the site for the project, the full council voted 5-3 to approve it.

"At a time when we really need housing, especially for seniors – at a time we need housing, period – I felt I could not support denial of this case," Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said during the Nov. 2 council meeting. "This is going to allow more housing in a compact development form, and it’s also in a location that’s appropriate for growth."

Councilman Corey Branch agreed.

"This is a project I think will fit," Branch said at the meeting. "I really think the applicant did work to listen to the neighbors and those in the community."

But Councilman Patrick Buffkin, who represents the Lead Mine Road neighborhood and voted against the plan, said Thursday that the decision shows the city's process for zoning changes is broken.

"We need to make the process more accessible for neighbors to participate, have their views heard and shape the outcome," Buffkin said. "The group of neighbors involved were reasonable. I think they articulated a better view of what this place should be."

Gross said a townhouse development would fit better with the existing neighborhood.

"We’re having a lot of challenges with traffic already and we’re afraid this is going to be made even worse," she said.

Raleigh police have responded to a dozen crashes in the half-mile segment of Lead Mine Road between Glenwood Avenue and Inman Park Drive in the last six months, according to records.

A condition of the rezoning requires the developer to chip in for a traffic light at Lead Mine Road and Inman Park Drive.

Developer Avi Grewal said the "challenging rezoning process" allowed project backers "to connect with our neighbors and to understand their concerns."

"We believe that senior housing is the right fit for this location and will further enhance the vibrancy and livability of the community," Grewal said in a statement to WRAL News.

Buffkin said Raleigh needs to follow the lead of other North Carolina cities and require detailed site plans much earlier in the zoning and development process.

"That was the first thing the neighbors asked for. They said, 'We want to see where the buildings are going to be [and] how tall they’re going to be,'" he said. "These are perfectly rational questions that really ought to be answered early enough in the zoning process so the neighbors can understand, express their views to council and council can make a good decision."

Gross said the zoning decision should serve as a warning to other Raleigh neighborhoods.

"What we’re seeing more and more is tall buildings are being approved in the middle of single-family homes. So, any neighborhoods that have open areas, I would say be on the lookout," she said. "We understand we need housing, but we also need to hold developers accountable to come up with plans that are well thought out and work with the surrounding neighborhoods."

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