On Tuesday, December 15, 2020, City Council held a special meeting for a public hearing and vote on the Downtown South rezoning.
The public hearing was 2 hours long, and each side (in support and opposed) was allocated 1 hour for comments. This meeting was to consider and vote upon the rezoning of the land for the project, only. We were not yet considering and voting upon allocation of any public funds or a stadium.
The developer will come back and request a special use permit for construction of a stadium, which will require additional considerations and discussion. Regarding any public funds, at our November 4, 2020 Council Meeting, we instructed staff to develop a citywide Tax Increment Grant (TIG) policy for possible use with Downtown South. That process will take approximately 6-8 months and will include more engagement and discussion. I wrote about the TIG process here.
The land for Downtown South was previously zoned mostly industrial mixed use and heavy industrial. The request was to change the zoning to commercial mixed use, allowing up to 20 and 40 story developments. Council approved the rezoning 7-1. Council Member Forte made the motion to approve (the project is in her district) and Council Member Branch seconded the motion to approve (he represents the adjacent district which includes Southeast Raleigh). I am thankful for their leadership, and I voted with them, in favor of the rezoning, and here’s why.
Going into the meeting I spent considerable time reading emails, talking on the phone, and meeting virtually with groups and individuals supportive of and opposed to the project. I told everyone I spoke to that I want to say “yes, and…” to Downtown South. I’ve been supportive of Downtown South since it was announced in 2019 and campaigned in support last fall. I believe it will be a transformative project for our city, but I had some concerns: stormwater runoff and flooding, workforce development, affordable housing, and women and minority owned business (WMBE) participation.
As part of the rezoning, the developer offered considerable stormwater mitigation conditions, including Green Stormwater Infrastructure and the creation of a $2.5 million “Walnut Creek Corridor Fund” for the purpose of improving water quality, mitigating flooding, restoring streams, and improving wildlife habitats in the entire Walnut Creed Corridor. The developer worked closely with the Partners for Environmental Justice on these conditions, and even individuals and groups with whom I spoke who were opposed to the rezoning expressed satisfaction with these stormwater conditions.
Regarding my other concerns, at the meeting we learned that the developer has partnered with a number of groups to address affordable housing, workforce development, and WMBE participation, and we heard directly from these partners.
- We heard from Bridget Wall-Lennon with BLWall Consulting about WMBE initiatives throughout the entire scope of the project: before, during, and after construction;
- Vicky Lundy Wilbon with Integral talked to us about their plan to develop affordable housing, focusing on workforce housing. They’ve included a zoning condition that requires them to build a certain number of housing units affordable at 80% AMI for 5 years, but we learned that they are seeking Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) subsidies which will require housing units affordable below 60% AMI for 15 years;
- We learned that they’ve partnered with F7 Development, created and operated by James (Monte) Montague, born and raised in Southeast Raleigh;
- And perhaps most impactful, we heard from LeVelle Moton with Raleigh Raised Development. Coach Moton explained that he will work to ensure MWBE participation and provide economic development opportunities to the surrounding areas. Coach Moton is extremely passionate about Southeast Raleigh; he grew up there and has spent most of his life giving back to the community. In his heartful, impassioned testimony in favor of Downtown South, Coach Moton said he knows he’s on the “right side” of the Downtown South project because he’s on the inside. He said three generations of his family have lived in Southeast Raleigh, and he saw how over the years no one wanted to invest there, until now. A summary of his words could never capture the emotion with which he spoke, and I strongly encourage you to watch his comments, which begin at 1:06:17.
One thing I heard a lot prior to the meeting was, how do we trust the developer to actually address these issues of equity? After hearing from Coach Moton especially, I trust he will do what is right by the community and make sure Downtown South provides much-needed economic development opportunities to a historically underserved area.
In addition, the developer has included a zoning condition that requires them to meet with the community every 3 months for 3 years, which provides an opportunity for you to join us in holding them accountable to their vision and promises.
Our vote to approve the rezoning is the first step in a much longer process that will require continued engagement and discussion throughout next year. I promise to remain engaged and listen to your thoughts and comments, regardless of whether we agree on this project or not. And I will do my best to be transparent in my decisions, as I’ve attempted to do with this summary.
Our next Council Meetings are Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. I hope you all have a great holiday, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.