Council threatens ‘Darth Vader Scenario’ in developer’s bid to destroy Azalea Falls, an ecological habitat of statewide significance. 

Council threatens ‘Darth Vader Scenario’ in developer’s bid to destroy Azalea Falls, an ecological habitat of statewide significance. 

Hillside Overlooking Azalea Falls

Azalea Falls was the subject of a prior post on this site. In it, we called on City Council to reject a developer’s application to up-zone a major portion of the property — allowing a high-density apartment project that would destroy not just that portion but the whole shebang.

Twice, Council has postponed a decision, at its meetings on Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. But the discussion Sept. 15 indicated that approval is imminent and likely to come in October.

Unless public opinion stops them


Azalea Falls is an environmental jewel, designated officially by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as a Natural Heritage site of statewide ecological significance.

Part of the property — the portion along Crabtree Creek — is owned already by the nonprofit City of Oaks Foundation, whose mission is to preserve important environmental assets for the people of Raleigh.

If the up-zoning is rejected, the rest of the property — a steep hillside above the City of Oaks holding — could be acquired and preserved as well.

As it should be. (See below for the how.)

Here’s a link to the City of Oaks Foundation’s website, which shows Azalea Falls to be, as we say, a jewel.


Jewel or not, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin signaled her intention to press ahead with the up-zoning at the Sept. 15 meeting, calling on District A Councilor Patrick Buffkin to make the case for it.

Buffkin, an attorney, promptly took the developer’s side, trying to argue that a provision of the up-zoning request — in legal terms, a condition offered by the developer — would somehow protect the Falls even as the stripping and mass grading of the wooded hillsides  that are integral to it proceeded. But it was not immediately apparent that this made any sense, so Buffkin resorted to cross-examining a citizen who disagreed with him.

That citizen happened to be Chris Heagarty, executive director of the City of Oaks Foundation.

Buffkin was insistent that stripping the trees from the hillside would not damage the site. Did Heagarty agree?

Heagarty did not agree, and he said so quietly, which caused Buffkin to push harder.

Buffkin (leaning in): Do you see any undue environmental harm resulting from this project going forward?

Heagarty (calmly): Councilor Buffkin, I honestly don’t have the answer you want to hear. But yes, I do think the project causes environmental harm. Any time you go in and take down rare native species, and destroy native habitats, it is going to have environmental impact. 

Heagarty was simply stating what should be obvious to everyone on Council:

The steeply wooded hillsides above Azalea Falls are CRITICAL to Azalea Falls’ unique and exceptional forest ecology and aquatic habitat. The hillsides and the Falls, in other words, are one and the same!

[Think whether you’d still have a car if someone destroyed the engine and the transmission.]

Again, this is spelled out in the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources designation of the Falls’ ecological significance. 

No wooded hillsides, no Azalea Falls.


Buffkin Plays Hardball

Finally, Buffkin resorted to the classic up-zoning threat, which goes like this: “If the developers don’t get their way, things could get much worse for you!”

We recall a now-retired Raleigh Planning Director who called this kind of development threat ‘the Darth Vader scenario.’

The threat here: If not allowed to strip the hillside for high-density development, the developer could choose to strip it anyway out of sheer destructiveness, dumping mud on the City of Oaks property below.

Which meant, to Buffkin, that the high-density development would have no “environmental impact.”

Once again, though, Heagarty wasn’t buying Buffkin’s premise.

“I have to be honest,” he said. “I can’t tell you that [the project] won’t have an environmental impact.”

Heagarty, in short, wasn’t giving cover to Buffkin, Baldwin and the rest of the Council majority, which seems determined nonetheless to allow this senseless destruction of a rare woodland oasis.

And what of the other Council members who brand themselves as environmentalists (we’re looking at you, Nicole Stewart and David Knight). They sat through the meetings in stony silence, unwilling even to utter the name ‘Azalea Falls,’ for fear of drawing Baldwin’s wrath.


A Better Way Forward

Azalea Falls and the steeply wooded slopes cradling it represent a special forest and aquatic habitat of statewide environmental importance to future Raleigh generations.

In 2052 more than 200 acres of land connecting Azalea Falls to Umstead State Park will be donated to the City of Raleigh for parkland — it’s now a quarry — and it will complete the Crabtree Creek Greenway across the entire city of Raleigh.

This is not the time for Council to be motivated by the insignificant short-term profits of the Z-47-19 parcel owner, which happens to be one of the largest construction conglomerates in North America. Instead, Council should look to protect one of Raleigh’s most precious environmental assets.

How? Simply buy the Z-47 parcel, tax valued at $1.7M, and add it to the 200 acres that will ultimately be given to the City. Better still, work with land owner Leigh Hanson to secure a tax-benefited charitable donation of the Z-47-19 parcel to an organization such as the Conservation Trust For North Carolina. At Council’s October 6 meeting: Save Azalea Falls.

Council Plans an Environmental Disaster to Benefit a Construction Conglomerate

Council Plans an Environmental Disaster to Benefit a Construction Conglomerate

Azalea Falls – On the Verge of Destruction by City Council

Tuesday afternoon, September 15, Council will likely decide the fate of one of Raleigh’s most environmentally significant sites – Azalea Falls, a secluded nine acre site owned by The City of Oaks Foundation and recognized by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as possessing natural values justifying its recognition by the State as an outstanding part of the natural heritage of North Carolina”.


Unfortunately, Council is considering an intense apartment project on the steep hills above Azalea Falls – upzoning Z-47-19, at 4800 Duraleigh Rd. These steep hills are part of a larger City-designated “Special Study Area” (one of five in the city) containing a quarry, which will be given to the City in 2052 for park land – unless this Council approves the upzoning for development ahead of time.


According to Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan, the Special Study Area designation specifies land use planning studies incorporating focused community outreach are necessary … before approval of development proposals or rezonings


Any normal Council would heed the citywide significance of the Special Study Area, the ongoing citywide problems with Crabtree Creek’s impaired water quality and stormwater flooding, the citywide significance of protecting the Crabtree Creek Greenway, and the statewide environmental designation of the Azalea Falls property. But this is not a normal Council. This is an anti-environmental Council.

This is not a normal Council. This is an anti-environmental Council.

At the September 1st public hearing on Z-47-19, self-proclaimed environmentalist Nicole Stewart responded to the long list of comprehensive planning and environmental concerns with stony silence. MaryAnn Baldwin was mum as well, hoping no one would mention her looming conflict of interest vote, since her boss Barnhill buys trainloads of aggregate from  Z-47-19 landowner, Hanson Aggregates. Patrick Buffkin managed a one liner: “its a very special property”. The remainder of the work – carving up the property like a Thanksgiving Turkey – was handled by David Knight.


Knight acknowledged that the project calls for 4+ story apartments and parking lots packed onto the steep slopes overlooking Azalea Falls and abutting homes to the south. Knight sought to shift the multi-story retaining walls back a bit, in the vain hope that the new development won’t somehow be looking down on the roofs of the neighbors.


To environmental observers, the Azalea Falls property looked like the Titanic going down, with Knight in charge of rearranging the deck chairs. Nowhere in his comments did Knight acknowledge that the steep wooded slopes will be mass graded and cleared and that rain events during the grading and construction will almost surely lead to uncontrollable stormwater runoff pouring off the site, eliminating all aquatic habitats in its path and turning Azalea Falls stream into a sludge pit.


According to Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan, this Special Study Area is one of the most important places in Raleigh to carefully and holistically consider our vision for sustainable citywide growth. Likewise, designation by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources of this area’s statewide environmental value, and the need to protect the wooded slopes overlooking it, adds immeasurable weight to the need for Council to preserve this land, not strip it bare.


But despite overwhelming evidence that this upzoning should not go forward, this Council seems determined to approve the destruction of our most precious environmental assets for the insignificant benefit of the quarry landowner – one of the largest construction conglomerates in North America.

City Council “Acts” to Fix the Affordable Housing Bond. Their Action Was Little and Very Late.

City Council “Acts” to Fix the Affordable Housing Bond. Their Action Was Little and Very Late.

The City Council finally did something about the Affordable Housing Bond Issue yesterday, months late and literally as people are about to start casting their election ballots by mail-in vote. Was it enough?

One of LR’s founding members, Bob Geary, spoke last night during the Council’s public comment period. Here’s what he said, in the 2 minutes available.


I’m Bob Geary. I’m a member of the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition. I’ve spoken to you before about your proposed 2020 Affordable Housing Bond Issue, and about the absence of any commitment from you that the $80 million, if authorized by the voters, would be used to help the low-income families and individuals in Raleigh who are in the greatest need of safe, affordable housing.

I watched earlier today as you received some recommendations from your Housing and Neighborhoods Department director on this subject, and you endorsed them without much discussion and, in my opinion, NO useful analysis. Thank you, Councilor Cox, for dissenting from that action.

My quick analysis is that the recommendations are better than nothing, but they fall far short of what’s needed to help those in the greatest need.

But what I really want to say is that these recommendations should have come to you months ago, when our Coalition pleaded with you to step up and define the bond.

We came to you in February, we came to you in March, we came to you with detailed recommendations on June 2 – no response.

Your public engagement process on this has been, in a word, atrocious.

Public engagement is something you don’t care about – that’s clear. And really sad.



Had you acted on the bond in March, or even in June, there would have been time for reflection about what you did and whether it was good enough.

But you waited, and waited and waited until today – September 1, when we are literally on the brink of having our mail-in ballots received and cast, and there is no time for public reflection, no time for public discussion, and no time, certainly, for public engagement by you.


Three things are missing from your action today.


      • 1)  You failed to create any sort of oversight process for tracking the spending of this bond money
      • 2)  You endorsed the “targets” suggested by your staff, but you made no commitments to them. And in the absence of an oversight committee, we won’t know whether the targets are being hit.
      • 3)  The targets are weak.

Your staff made the targets sound better than they are by mixing up city spending with county-funded housing vouchers. But the plain fact is that as things stand, the city will continue to subsidize housing for moderate-income families, and the poor will be left to fend for themselves.

Or left to the county.

Raleigh, we STILL have a problem.


p.s. Adding insult to injury, Councilors Jonathan Melton and Nicole Stewart said the bond should strongly address gentrification, dislocation and evictions. But when the time came for them to somehow beef up the “targets,” they offered nothing. They were all talk, but no action to protect low-wealth communities of color.

UpZoning 102: Making Your Community’s Voices Heard

7 Ways to Make Your Community’s Voices Heard

Based on the collaboration of neighbors facing the upzoning Z-41-19 near Shelley Lake Park, here are 7 Actions developed by WeLoveShelleyLake that you can implement to make your collective voice known to city leadership and advocate for responsible, equitable development of our city.

The surprise dismantling of the CACs and ever-changing rules of engagement for participation in City Council meetings has muted the voice of the citizenry and left us on our own to devise methods we can employ to restore our voice and be heard.

Tapping into the power of our diverse neighborhoods and communities, we can let city leadership know that we are a part of the growing public that is engaged and will remain engaged in the process. Remember, each of us possesses a variety of skill sets and expertise.

Crowdsourcing our unique gifts and maintaining a collaborative mindset and a persistent spirit will allow us to provide public access to truthful, vetted information. Access to this information is critical as it enables us to make well informed decisions on land use management and rezoning topics that are important to our communities and city.

7 Actions You Can Implement Now

1. Get to Know Your Area

Take time to get to know your area. Learn more about the city’s vision for your area by reviewing a few maps, all contained in the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan: Existing Zoning and Future Land Use Maps, Growth Framework Map, Urban Form Map, and Planned Transit Facilities Map.

Notice undeveloped/underdeveloped and declining properties in your area, including amenities in the area that might attract development. Developers continually scout for locations years in advance. Be aware of stream channels in the area. They may be subject to stream buffer protections, unless the property owner or developer is successful in having the protections removed. In those cases, there is only a short window of opportunity to appeal the ruling . The moral of this story? Start educating yourself NOW.

2. Get to Know Your Neighbors

Get to know your neighbors and those in neighboring communities. Share information about prospective development and rezoning in your area. Don’t assume everyone got “the letter,” the required, by law, first letter that must be sent to property owners 500 feet from the proposed site. If a letter arrives, share its contents with the greater community, those neighbors beyond the 500 feet, and start a file- SAVE THE LETTER AND ENVELOPE.

In our case the original map of properties that was part of “the letter” included two properties that were NOT part of the rezoning. The document presented a false narrative. This map has been excluded from the application on file and another image has been provided.

3. Get Involved

Make attending the first meeting with the developer a priority! Connect with others attending and share contact information. Take notes, take photos, and ask questions. Don’t be shy! Have the presenters provide the reference sources used to arrive at their stated data and information so that you can confirm its validity and identify any bias present.

4. Write emails, Ask Questions, and Demand Key Conditions be Included for Rezoning Approval

NOTE- If properties are being “upzoned” to R-10 and above- DEMAND from the developer and your representatives (Mayor, District Council member, and two At-Large Council members) that two conditions be included in the rezoning application:  minimum 15% affordable housing dedicated to 30-50% AMI and Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Not doing so would be a huge missed opportunity to provide needed, affordable housing, reduce exclusionary zoning practices, and protect our environment. Continually demanding these two conditions be included in any increased density, multi-family development forces our elected officials to honestly address these important city issues.


Always confirm what you read and what you are told. Track your contacts. Create a contact log (Date/ Time/ Person Contacted/ Contact # or email/ Notes of Conversation/ Follow-up email sent/ Reply Received) for in-person and phone conversations. Take the time to confirm what you believe was said in the conversation through a follow-up email.

6. Educate yourself.

Explore the wealth of information provided online by the City of Raleigh on its Planning and Development Department webpage Here, you will be able to access the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), Text Changes to the UDO, and Current Development Activity. You can locate your rezoning case file in the listing of Current Development Activity [zoning cases (z)]. Your case file will provide you with the application for rezoning and the staff report. Livable Raleigh also provides a list of useful Resources Here.

While the 2030 Comprehensive Plan and the UDO are very helpful to understanding Raleigh’s land use vision, policies, and regulations, understanding the rezoning application may prove intimidating. Don’t let that stop you from asking for clarity. Contact the city planner assigned to your case and ask questions. The planners are friendly and patient! Also, we encourage you to attend an “Ask the Planner” event when available. [COVID-19 has disrupted the city’s ability to provide these events at present. Check to see if there is another alternative.]

Share What You Learn

Yard Signs Get the Message Out

Share what you learn and be an advocate-  Talk, Call, Text, Post, Plant yard signs, Make t-shirts, Create petitions!

  • Collaborate with a small group of interested and available parties to create your administrative and communication infrastructure. Avoid using your everyday, personal email address. Instead, establish a group entity and “claim the name.” You will use this name to maintain continuity across all of your communication platforms- email, website, media applications, and print. Keep it simple and use the rezoning case file number, the location, an easy slogan or acronym. For example, we work under the name “We Love Shelley Lake.”
  • Use your group’s email to create Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media accounts you may want to use as a delivery vehicle Name these accounts your group email name or something similar. Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you use the account, the initial goal is to prevent someone else from highjacking the account by acquiring the account under your name. Before adding email address to your distribution lists, always confirm they want to be included.

Helpful Tip! Protect your email recipients from unwanted emails and “reply all” overload. Send group emails by placing all recipient addresses in the bcc: location and leave the To: and cc: areas blank.

Always contact individuals on your mailing list to confirm they want to be included (opt in) on major statements or actions. This maintains trust and integrity of operation. There are lots of reasons a person may opt out of a particular group action/ letter- they may disagree, they may be in conflict due to their profession or employer, or they may decline for some other personal reason.

  • Create a website or some way to organize, instantly update, and share information with others. We initially worked with a google doc in a “running record” format but quickly migrated to website format (google site) which allowed information to be better organized and accessed.

Helpful Tip!  Provide quick, easy access and increase site traffic by using a shortened URL address and a QR code. Using a to shorten the URL address will allow you to use your email name for continuity, and QR codes can be personalized.

Most URL shortener and QR Code providers allow at least one account for free. Check out these sites for more information: and

  • Create a filing system to keep your records, correspondence, and research organized and readily accessible. Setting up a main file and subfiles early on will allow you to stay on top of things as your group navigates the rezoning process.

While all this work may not result in zoning and development that the majority of the citizenry seeks, it will provide us with a record of how our mayor and council members chose to address these issues and serve as a report card for our elected officials. In October 2021, we have the power to elect representation that supports our collective view and better ensure our voices are heard in the future.

Got questions?  We are happy to help. Contact us at and include the subject line Upzoning 102 article.

Fair Housing Attorney: Baldwin Tramples Truth about Equity and Housing Bond

After the July 7 City Council meeting, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin published the following statement in social media:

Mary-Ann Baldwin

“Big changes are coming to Raleigh. Yesterday, the City Council took major steps forward to make our City more equitable, affordable, safer, and welcoming to all.

After several months of staff research and planning, we followed through on our promise to allow the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as granny flats, by right in every residential district of the City. At the suggestion of Councilor Nicole Stewart, we eliminated a rule limiting occupancy and will allow live-work units as well as short-term rentals. I’ve asked staff to look at ways that we can encourage the construction of more ADUs. Not only does this give Raleigh residents more control over their own property, it will increase housing choices and availability. We also expanded cottage courts – an example of the “missing middle housing” we are encouraging — and eliminated minimum parking requirements downtown and in transit overlay districts. The latter change will allow housing to be built less expensively and moves us toward creating a less car-dependent city.

Additionally, Raleigh voters will officially have the opportunity to vote on an $80 million affordable housing bond this November, as we voted to move forward with the bond at our council meeting yesterday. The bond includes funding for the construction of housing through public-private partnerships, low-income affordable housing, a first-time home buyers program, and a home repair fund.

I, along with many of my fellow council members, campaigned on getting these things done, and yesterday we delivered.”

Fair Housing Attorney Yolanda Taylor responded to Baldwin:

“Lies. Some people wouldn’t know what equity looked like if it walked up to them and slapped the mask off their face.

Equity is not a word we just toss around in the air because it sounds good. Equity is about ensuring fairness in programming, local policies and outcomes.

Taylor Receiving Award

Currently, Raleigh doesn’t look like an equitable city for those who have experienced years of racial discrimination and have been victimized by others with more voiced political power. These victimizers have historically and are currently grabbing land and pushing black and brown people out of their homes and communities.

How are some “progressives” in Raleigh, any better than conservative Republicans? At least we know where conservatives stand. Yet, some of these so-called progressive policies fail to center the voices of black and brown people, who are disproportionately affected by so many systems-one being housing. So called progressive policies around growth and development are inequitable because they have led to the mass displacement of black renters in downtown Raleigh. Black Middle Neighborhoods are on the edge of flipping to becoming exclusively white and their current residents are constantly harassed day and night by hungry investors.

Now Raleigh wants to use a handful of these ADUs that you call granny flats, for commercial use and short term rentals. What does renting a “granny flat” to someone looking for an Airbnb have to do with creating affordable housing for the poor or those with the most identified need for housing? “

Raleigh’s federally mandated Consolidated Plan states:


 “The primary housing challenge for Raleigh’s low- and moderate-income residents remains housing affordability. Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and with this rapid growth has come rising land values and increased housing costs. Concurrently, incomes for lower-wage earners have failed to keep pace, with very-low (50% AMI) and extremely-low (30% AMI) income households being most affected. Racial and ethnic minorities, most notably African Americans, are disproportionately affected compared to Whites.”

Equity requires Raleigh to deal with its stated and identified issue around housing instead of just using this language in a HUD document to secure more HUD dollars and then using those same HUD dollars against the very people the dollars are supposed to help.

As it relates to the proposed affordable housing bond, the question remains #affordable4who? The draft bond is #notenough because there are no details on who the bond will help. Will it help the people who really need housing which are more people now because of this economic down turn caused by Covid-19. Or will this so called affordable housing bond help developers who wish to build housing unaffordable to the 30% and below? Again, equity ensures fair outcomes. If development policies aren’t ensuring that marginalized communities, low-wealth people of color with the most identified need for housing are helped—then there’s no equity here.” 

Photo by Seasons4Photos

Columnist Courtney Napier echoed Yolanda Taylor’s concerns in this recent IndyWeek article:

  >  Under the Cover of a Progressive Appointment, the Raleigh City Council Is Pursuing Its Usual Agenda

“It is common knowledge in the Raleigh activist community how Mayor Baldwin and the council truly feel about the issues most impacting its Black and Brown residents.”


Also See Related Affordable Housing Bond Blog Posts:

   > Raleigh’s Affordable Housing Bond: No Commitments = No Accountability
   > The City Council’s Affordable Housing Bond Issue: “Buckets” of Debt ($80 mil) in Search of a Plan