By Mia Khatib
RALEIGH — Raleigh Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch led a District C neighborhood meeting on May 20 to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and provide updates on the New Bern Avenue Bus Rapid Transit plan, the city budget, and affordable housing and development.
The city budget is $1.26 billion, all city employees will get at least a 5% raise, and property taxes will increase by 0.4 cents, only because of the passage of the Parks Bond, Branch said. The budget will be discussed in more detail at the City Council’s June 6 public hearing, 7 p.m.
Branch said the city has tax relief programs for eligible veterans and seniors, and the Council and County have been in conversation with One Wake, a group of congregations and nonprofits, to bring more assistance to struggling people that don’t qualify. But no actions have been taken so far.
Vicky Hewitt-McNeil, a One Wake member and District C resident, said they’ve been discussing this since 2021 but no actions have been taken yet. She said this is partly because they’ve had to re-brief new council members after elections. “If you can't pay your taxes, you can't continue to live where you live, you're losing an affordable home,” Hewitt-McNeill said. “That’s why we looked into this…Mecklenburg County, Durham County, they’ve already done it. But Wake County, for some reason, we can’t get it done.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING /DEVELOPMENT
Raleigh recently purchased properties at the corner of New Bern Avenue and Raleigh Boulevard, including the former Zacks Grocery Mart. Branch said the next step is to reconfigure the property, and the goal is to bring more retail and affordable housing to the area.
He also said there is an ongoing housing project to bring single family homes and townhomes to East College Park, but market challenges have delayed the development of the 80 townhomes. Still, Branch said, residents can expect those in the area at some point. “Sixty percent of those are supposed to be part of our affordable housing program and then 40% will be market rate,” he said. “The ultimate goal is that you drive in the neighborhood, but you can't tell which house is which.”
One person asked for an update on Tower Shopping Center. Branch said the owner is trying to acquire more land around the area before deciding what to develop, and he has been in conversation with community members and local business owners who are forming groups to discuss what they want to develop and see along the corridor.
BUS RAPID TRANSIT
Branch said the New Bern Avenue BRT is moving forward and utilities are beginning to be installed, but the Transit Overlay District rezoning is still under review by the planning commission. Property owners can opt in or out of the TOD.
A resident asked what the advantage of opting into the TOD is, and Branch said it encourages affordable housing. If a property owner wants to add up to three stories to his property, 20% of the units per additional story has to be affordable for 30 years.
Another resident asked what the purpose of the TOD is. Branch said it ensures development along the BRT supports transit, making the area more walkable for riders. The base zoning for properties under the TOD remains the same, but for properties that fall under a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, the TOD takes precedence. “And that's where we received a lot of feedback and concern, so these are things that are being looked at, to see what can be addressed and what mitigations can be there,” he said.
Some attendees raised concerns about the TOD facilitating gentrification. A resident who lives in an apartment on Davie Street said many of his Black neighbors are moving out, and the TOD seems like “it’s more of an encouragement without a lot of teeth.”
Similarly, Mary Kos said, “for the right price” historic single family homes may be replaced with stories of gentrified housing. She asked why they can’t make the area more walkable without tearing things down.
Branch said the goal isn’t to tear down the entire corridor. “This plan may happen just as I expect Western Boulevard planning happened. When it came back to City Council, we made changes, we took properties out,” he said.
Eugene Myrick said the BRT seems like an extreme response when increasing bus lines and drivers could’ve been a simple fix to improving public transit. “We put more buses out, but those buses still going in the same traffic,” Branch said. “What BRT does, it takes the bus and puts it in a dedicated lane and it takes our lights and… triggers other traffic to kind of stop to give the bus priority.”
Mia Khatib, who covers affordable housing and gentrification, is a Report for America corps member.