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Raleigh protects another neighborhood. But is it helping or hurting affordable housing?

Triangle sees a ‘shocking’ decline in the number of starter homes for sale

There’s been a “shocking” decline in the number of homes available for under $200,000 in the Triangle over the past five years, with availability of homes under $150,000 dropping 93 percent.
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There’s been a “shocking” decline in the number of homes available for under $200,000 in the Triangle over the past five years, with availability of homes under $150,000 dropping 93 percent.

Raleigh City Council member Corey Branch worries new neighborhood-protection rules may hurt the city’s affordable-housing efforts.

But that didn’t stop him and the rest of the council on Tuesday from voting to limit how many new homes can be built in a North Raleigh neighborhood.

“Though I am going to support this, I am very concerned about affordable housing,” Branch said. “I just want to make sure as we move forward with these and maybe other projects that come before us, we are not zoning us out of affordable housing.”

The council unanimously approved a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District for the North Ridge West neighborhood during Tuesday’s afternoon meeting.

Such districts — the city has at least 19 of them — require new housing to resemble existing homes in a neighborhood in order to protect a community’s character. The North Ridge West district cuts in half the number of homes allowed per acre, among other rules.

Located off Falls of Neuse Road and south of Interstate 540, the neighborhood is just east of the North Ridge Elementary School and north of the North Ridge Country Club.

More than 75 percent of the neighbors in the affected area supported the overlay district, said council member Dickie Thompson.

There are places in Raleigh appropriate for more homes, but the new homes are often more expensive, council member Stef Mendell.

“All across the city we are seeing relatively affordable houses — and affordable is in the eye of the beholder — but say $300,000 to $400,000 homes being torn down. Lots divided. More houses put on them.” she said. “Those are not cheaper houses. Those are not more affordable houses. They tend to be million dollar-plus houses.”

At a county commissioners meeting earlier Tuesday, Lorena McDowell, the county’s new housing director, said Wake County is losing 800 to 1,300 “naturally occurring affordable housing units” a year, meaning homes that people can afford without a government subsidy.

Branch said the city has to make sure affordable housing and increased density goes throughout the city.

‘Very thorough process’

Thomas Whaley, who lives on Tanbark Way in North Ridge West, thanked the council members and said it had been a long process to get to Tuesday’s meeting. The neighborhood is in support of the district, he said.

The neighborhood characteristics have been in place for a long time, said Peggy McIntyre, who lives on Buckhead Drive. The homes were built between 1969 and 1975, according to a staff report.

“We’ve attended planning commission meetings, neighborhood meetings, CAC [Citizen Advisory Council] meetings — it’s a very thorough process,” McIntyre said. “And this has had strong support throughout. We actually have neighbors here representing 10 of the 41 properties, so a quarter of the folks took off work to come here and show our support. We know how important this is.”

David Ulmer lives less than two miles from the neighborhood and spoke against the rezoning. Neighborhood conservation overlay districts make it hard for the city to grow as a whole, he said.

“This is anti-family, anti-opportunity and raises overall housing costs in a city at a time when we need more housing, not less housing,” he said. “We need a city that can grow. We need communities that can be loving and tolerant. Tolerant communities that accept new people and grow over time.”

After the meeting, he said he didn’t understand why a “neighborhood’s character had to be frozen in time.”

The city’s other neighborhood conservation overlay districts include Cameron Park, Five Points East, Oberlin Village and other neighborhoods within the North Ridge area.

New standards for the North Ridge West NCOD:

  • Minimum lot size: 20,000 square feet.

  • Minimum lot width, interior lot: 100 feet

  • Minimum lot width, corner lot: 151 feet

  • Front Yard setback: Minimum of 11 feet

  • Side yard setback: Minimum of 11 feet

  • Side street setback: 35 feet

  • Maximum building height: 29 feet

  • Maximum residential density: 2.2 dwellings per acre
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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University. Reach her at 919-829-4807 or ajohnson@newsobserver.com.

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