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Residents tell Raleigh City Council, Don’t ‘cannibalize’ Dix Park with development

What will you be able to do at Dix Park in Raleigh?

The city unveiled what you might be able to do while visiting Dix Park near downtown Raleigh. A boutique hotel, food hall, brewery, large field, gardens, hiking trails were some of the things planned for Dorothea Dix Park.
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The city unveiled what you might be able to do while visiting Dix Park near downtown Raleigh. A boutique hotel, food hall, brewery, large field, gardens, hiking trails were some of the things planned for Dorothea Dix Park.

Several people urged the Raleigh City Council this week not to “cannibalize” Dix Park with private development.

A handful of speakers on Tuesday night asked that all references to development and parking be removed from the recently unveiled draft master plan for Dix Park, located just outside downtown.

The plan is the result of more than a year of gathering feedback about what people want to see at the 306-acre campus. Several of the speakers were members of Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and Dix 306, two groups that have worked for years to turn the campus into a park.

“All the references to development that is not for park purposes should be stricken from the master plan,” Joseph Huberman said. “The default action of the plan should be no private development. There should be no discussion or negotiation regarding leasing park property for private use without prior approval from City Council.”

People can comment on the more than 200-page master plan by Jan. 14. The final community meeting about the master plan is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Raleigh Convention Center in Ballroom B.

Raleigh leaders could vote on the plan as early as Feb. 14.

Support for first phase

Anna Smith asked if the park’s namesake — mental health advocate Dorothea Dix — would want private development in the park.

“Would Dix advocate for a permanent brewery in a place dedicated to mental wellness? Nah,” she said. “Her idea was more central farm. Now a hops garden for all the city’s breweries? I digress.”

The Dorothea Dix campus had a psychiatric hospital with a working farm.

All of the speakers who opposed development in the park agreed the city should still move forward with the first phase of the plan, which would restore and expand the creek, restore the cemetery and demolish or renovate buildings that are transferred early from the state. It could take more than 10 years to complete, according to plan documents.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the New York-based design firm that Raleigh hired to plan the park, has outlined two different portions of the park: a 21st century, bustling place to visit and an escape into nature in the middle of the city.

The master plan calls for just a few buildings to remain, and buildings will only make up a small portion of the park, said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

“None of what they are worried about is set in stone,” she said. “It’s unfortunate there is a lot of misinformation being circulated, but the master plan is really a guiding document. As we implement each phase there will be another whole process of neighborhood engagement and citizen engagement.”

A guiding document

It will be years before the city will look at the next phase and “Raleigh is going to change and grow,” she said. “There are going to be different people here.” Things that are in the plan “aren’t set in stone,” she added.

“That’s the beauty of having this overall guiding document,” McFarlane said. “As each phase is implemented we’ll decide which buildings we keep and what we put in the park. It will be worked out and decided. I don’t want people to be upset.”

Carlton Midyette, who serves on the executive committee of the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, also addressed the council Tuesday night, saying he was only speaking for himself. The Conservancy is a nonprofit meant to raise funds for the park.

“Let’s be careful about the term ‘development,’” he said. “It can be a handy pejorative, a bogeyman of sorts, but there will be development of some sort in Dix Park. Whether it be a botanical garden, a performing arts theater or a trail system. Let’s acknowledge that and not use that term as if it was a communicable disease.”

People shouldn’t get bogged down in the details “we won’t be able to answer for many years,” Midyette said. The city should approve the draft master plan because every phase will be scrutinized by the council and the public, he said.

“The master plan, guided by community engagement of over 60,000 citizens and 500 meetings suggested a dense core — a vibrant community hub in the park that could easily serve as a complement to the open space,” Midyette said. “It would appeal to a large part of the population who would be more interested in a vibrant hub than a walk in the woods.”

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