Councilor Jane Harrison parted ways with the other three new members of Raleigh’s City Council (Black, Patton and Jones). The group usually forms a coalition that is more skeptical of intense development outside the Central Business District and close to established neighborhoods. Instead Harrison provided the swing vote for the pro-developer faction of Council and voted to approve the controversial rezoning of Shaw University.

Just minutes after being instructed by the City Attorney that this case is a LAND-USE decision, in order to derail any sympathy votes for the Muslim community, Harrison tossed out the land-use policies around “Transition Areas” that should have guided her decision and instead based her decision on an irrelevant point about the Prince Hall Historic Overlay District.

What is even more confounding is that just a short seven weeks ago another zoning case located at Peace & West Streets was controlled by the same “Downtown Transition” policies of Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan. And in that case, Harrision quoted directly from the Comp Plan, citing those policies as the reason she was voting to DENY the case. But, when it came to the Shaw rezoning Harrison abandoned her principles and reversed course no longer willing to make her decisions based on policy even when instructed by the City Attorney to do so.

The image on the left shows map DT-2 Downtown Transition Areas. The area in white is the Central Business District. The areas in blue are the Transition Areas designed to protect established residential neighborhoods from the development intensity of the business district.

You see two areas in the map outlined in red. Those are the two rezoning cases referred to in this piece.

The one at the bottom, Z-59-22, is the Shaw rezoning case. It is located at the “Edge” of the business district. It also has the additional protection of being in a designated Transition Area. You can read the details explaining how the same Land Use policies used to deny Z-54-22, demand the denial of the Shaw case as well.  Shaw rezoning, use your head

The one at the top, Z-54-22, is at Peace & West St and is also located at the “Edge” of the business district but without a designated Transition Area. You can read the details of why Jane Harrison voted to deny this case in a previous piece here: Alternative Facts

Watch Councilor Harrison explain her denial of Z-54-22 on May 2nd where she spoke directly from the Comp Plan Downtown Transition Policies to justfy denial and made sure to point out that as currently zoned at 12 stories it would contribute to a wonderful, dense, walkable community.

These same policies are applicable to the Shaw University case.

Watch the City Attorney explain to the Council that the Shaw University case is a Land Use decision. Meaning that the decision should be based on the Land Use policies of the Comp Plan and not on issues such as access to the mosque by the Muslim community which the City Council has no authority to address in a rezoning case.

Watch Councilor Harrison explain her reasoning for voting to approve the Shaw case. Despite the instructions from the City Attorney that this case is about Land Use, Harrison ignores land use policy and instead discusses the Prince Hall Historic Overlay District. This issue is irrelevant. The Shaw property is located in a designated Transition Area no matter what the status of the Prince Hall District is. And the Downtown Transition Land Use Policies are controlled by that Transition Area designation.

Harrison made no similar comment this time that Shaw could use their current zoning of 12 stories to allow reinvestment in its future as she did in denying Z-54-22 in May.

Harrison is not the only councilor who flip-flopped on this issue of following Comp Plan policy to make Land Use decisions. Both Councilors Forte and Branch also voted in May to deny the case at Peace & West St and then changed course to vote to approve the Shaw University rezoning. Branch’s switch up is no surprise. In fact, we believe his earlier vote to deny Z-54-22 was a cynical ploy to support Harrison’s wishes in her district so he could then call on her to support his wishes with Shaw. We believe this because the Peace & West case was in Harrison’s District D and his vote to deny that case was NOT needed. But, Branch has been the councilor driving for approval of the Shaw case since it came forward and Branch did need Harrison’s vote for it to pass.

It’s also perplexing that Harrison and the other councilors who voted to approve the rezoning were impressed by a condition requiring Shaw to hold regular public meetings to update the community about development plans. These meetings will be performative at best as there is no requirement for Shaw to take any action based on input from the community gathered at these meetings. It’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. 

Similarly, promises of future area plan discussions and future discussions of the Prince Hall Historic Overlay District are too late as the Downtown Transition Policy DT 1.14 states “where existing zoning overlays are mapped, the height guidance in these districts should not be changed outside of an area planning process.” But, approving this case not only changed the height guidance, it also was legally required to change the Future Land Use Map to match the new zoning. 

This approval sets a dangerous precedent that will be used by future applicants who want to be relieved of complying with Transition Area policies for their properties as well.

Livable Raleigh Editorial Team

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