After six weeks of special meetings and intense analysis, the Raleigh Planning Commission found the Downtown South Project, the largest development proposal ever in Raleigh, to be fundamentally inconsistent with Raleigh’s adopted policies for environmental protection, traffic mitigation, affordable housing, gentrification and equitable development.
Their comments are highlighted in this video.
I feel like the Planning Commission has a received pressure to move this case along in an extremely expedited manner.
I feel strongly that a vote in favor of this case would be a vote against equitable development.
They voted 8 to 0 to deny the case. In doing so, they recommended that Council not approve this rezoning, but direct the applicant to resubmit their proposal as a Planned Development, to provide more details and resolve the incomplete and inconsistent elements in the current application.
I’ve been really disturbed by the equity washing in this project’s marketing materials and I believe they obscure the content of its legal documents. This rezoning application shows a vicious disregard for equity and fairness.
The application’s refusal to acknowledge and mitigate the upheaval and damage that this project will bring to our social fabric is not healthy for our city.
The Planning Commission’s frustration at the applicant’s lack of candor or responsiveness was reflected in comments accompanying their unanimous vote to deny the Downtown South Project.
Their comments are highlighted in this video.
As the largest development proposal ever seen in Raleigh, John Kane’s Downtown South Project challenges all the normal processes for judging community impacts and benefits.
The political pressure for quick approval is equally off the charts, so much so that the City Council has scheduled special meetings designed to force the Planning Commission into wrapping up their Downtown South review in less time than a typical rezoning, even though its complexity and impacts are the largest ever seen.
These Planning Commissioners’ service is a profile in courage and professionalism
Raleigh’s Planning Commissioners are Council-appointed volunteers who review development proposals and regulations. While some commissioners see the work as a stepping stone to political or business advancement, they all bring a spirit of community service. The work is a complex mix of legal, political and financial forces, blended into an endless triage of development analyses and recommendations to Council.
In this pressure cooker, two Planning Commissioners have recused themselves, since they are associated with Kane Realty. For the rest, it would be easy to throw up their hands and punt. But in an extraordinary display of professionalism and integrity, a majority of the remaining Commissioners are taking their oath of public service very seriously. They are working to produce a high quality set of recommendations – for a successful project that serves the public interest according to Raleigh’s community vision of sustainable and equitable prosperity. Their determination to speak up for the best interest of the public is a profile in courage.
You can see clips of them in action in a short video HERE.
The Planning Commission is still looking at it, and City Council was not scheduled to meet again until January. You know, “Deck the Halls?”
Until, that is, Mayor Baldwin and her band of Council followers stepped in to fast-track developer John Kane’s “Downtown South” scheme.
Suddenly, as the result of their 7-1 vote on Tuesday, Council will hold an extraordinary extra meeting in December solely for the purpose of taking up Kane’s massive up-zoning application and conducting the legally required public hearing. The meeting/hearing is set for 7 pm December 15.
Approval could occur immediately following the hearing. Or, if not, Baldwin also set up an extra December 17 meeting, again, just for Kane.
Now, if you’re asking how Council can set a public hearing on a rezoning case while the Planning Commission is still gathering information about it — good question!
Customarily, Council waits until the PC makes a recommendation, for or against. Then, at its next meeting, Council sets a public hearing for some future date. It’s unprecedented for Council to reach in and grab a case before the PC is finished.
But then, John Kane is this Council’s favorite, and he did contribute tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns. (As he did to fellow developer Donald Trump’s campaign.)
By the way, the PC is allowed up to 90 days for its fact-finding efforts on a case, and the 90-day clock on Kane’s application does not end until January 11. The next PC meeting is December 8 — next Tuesday — and the Kane project is on the agenda, along with a half-dozen other cases.
By setting the public hearing for Kane a week later, Baldwin is in effect putting a gun to the PC’s head, telling them to finish up and get out of the way. Supposedly, the hearing is contingent on the PC being finished. But finished or not, the hearing is set.
Meanwhile, opposition to Kane’s “project” is growing, and Baldwin and her Council allies are obviously concerned that the more the public learns about it, the less they’re gonna like it.
The Planning Commission has been discussing Kane’s proposal since mid-October, and the more they talk about it, the more problems they see for surrounding communities. Problems like gentrification, displacement of residents, enormous traffic congestion on area roads, and especially the downstream flooding prospects as this giant “Downtown” is built on and around the flood-prone Walnut Creek.
The biggest problem with the Kane Realty scheme is that it is so un-specific. Kane wants the right to build 40-story buildings and 20-story buildings, but doesn’t want to give the first detail of what the buildings will be for or where on the site they will go up.
Of course not: Once the land is zoned for mega-development, Kane can sell it off, piece by piece, at huge profit, for whatever someone else wants to build.
From the developers’ standpoint, this makes perfect sense. But how is the community supposed to know what the impacts will be — the flood impacts, the traffic impacts, the gentrification impacts — when the developer has offered no specifics about what will be built?
The only prudent course is to assume that the buildings will be as big as possible, generating maximum negative impacts, unless Kane offers legally binding assurances that they won’t be — assurances that in a zoning case are called “conditions.”
Several PC members have suggested that Kane should withdraw the application and start over with a new one that lays out a “Planned Development” — one that shows the “what” and the “where” and offers specific community benefits such as parkland, affordable housing, a library, a job training center, something.
Remember, also, that the Kane site is in a federally designated “Opportunity Zone,” a Trump creation that was supposed to help disadvantaged communities but, in many instances, doesn’t.
So far, nothing in Kane’s application suggests that he’s got the best interests of the disadvantaged in mind.
Kudos to Councilor David Cox, the only “No” vote against fast-tracking the case, for pointing to the elephant in the room.
“This is supposed to be an Opportunity Zone,” Cox said. “Not an Exploitation Zone.”
Kudos to the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition (WCHJC) for their Virtual Public Forum on November 23, lifting the voices of those who would be most impacted by John Kane‘s Downtown South project.
With the decline in local, independent investigative news reporting, the Coalition has stepped into the role of giving voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices driven by Baldwin, her Council cohorts and their wealthy development donors
The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition has stepped into the role of giving voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices
The Coalition’s Monday night forum was attended by more than 100 impacted and concerned residents, making it larger by far than any city or developer-sponsored zoning session. Attendees included members of prominent faith organizations, environmental organizations and impacted neighborhoods, especially those threatened by rapidly increasing gentrification, flooding and other systemic racial and economic disparities.
The speakers were joined by one Councilor and offered a strong vision for equitable prosperity for all, where a successful Downtown South project begins with the voices of the public in determining what is truly “in the public interest.” That means balancing Council’s valuable grant of zoning development entitlements with equally valuable community benefits, including Affordable Housing, eliminating flooding and providing the kinds of community-serving institutions and businesses that strengthen and revitalize existing neighborhoods rather than simply erasing them in a flood of 40-story sports and entertainment profits for the already-wealthy.
The full Virtual Public Forum video is available at the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition’s Facebook Page, along with a recap of community comments and the results of polling conducted during the meeting.
A pattern of silencing community voices
The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition‘s efforts are especially important since Mayor Baldwin and her pro-growth Councilors, in their rush to approve Kane’s largest ever development in Raleigh, have made no attempt to invite the voices of the people. Instead, Council has again sent the fox into the henhouse, with Kane‘s development team controlling who will be heard and imposing an artificial deadline designed to let the clock run out on negotiations.
This is the latest example of how this Council has consistently rewritten zoning review rules to silence community voices in favor of development profits: In February, the new Council planned in secret and voted without public notice or public input to defund Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). Council replaced the community run CAC review of upzoning cases with a developer run process, held out of public view, at a time and place decided by the developer, and with the community’s independent vote replaced by a sanitized developer report to Council.
Want to know more about Kane’s $300M+ stadium subsidy or the Planning Commission’s courageous efforts to make the Downtown South proposal comply with Raleigh’s own strategic growth goals? Read more Livable Raleigh Blogs HERE.
Bob Geary, resident of Raleigh’s District D, delivered the following comments about the Downtown South Project to City Council on Nov 4:
Mayor and Council – I want to make 3 points about the Downtown South Project.
This is a terrific site for development in South Raleigh, on a future Bus Rapid Transit route. It should be replete with affordable housing. Built at a neighborhood-scale to complement what’s around it.
That’s what it should be.
1.So, Point No. 1. Tax-increment grants. Once that Pandora’s box is opened, it will be very hard to close. Does every developer get one? Watch out that you don’t saddle the taxpayers with the customary costs that developers should pay and have always paid.
2.Point No. 2. Your Planning Commission is wrestling with Kane’s rezoning application. Listen to them. A project of this size should be a Planned Development with details about what will be built and where.
Kane’s application, though, has literally not a single detail. Instead, it asks for a maximum 40 stories across the entire site, which would let him build – or sell – for maximum profit. That’s fine, that’s what developers do.
But in exchange, they customarily offer some amenities – some community benefits – in return for being allowed to build bigger, taller, with more profit, and more impact on city infrastructure.
Kane’s “plan” is a blank sheet, especially where the benefits should be.
Well, Kane is nothing if not audacious. He wants this giant entitlement first, and THEN he will talk to the city about any community benefits if the taxpayers are willing to pay for them, and then only if he wants them.
He won’t pay for them. But he gets to say what they are?
To put it mildly, this is what you call bass ackwards. The benefits should be offered and agreed to first, before the rezoning is considered, and while the city still has leverage.
To do the reverse makes Kane all-powerful, and puts the taxpayers in the position of mere supplicants … coming hat in hand to ask, please, sir, could we have some affordable housing in your giant project?
And the answer, according to Kane’s spokesman Bonner Gaylord, is that No, you can’t have any affordable housing, or a library, or a community center, or anything else you might actually want — unless and until you’ve paid for – paid ME to build – MY stadium. Or, now it’s an amphitheater?
Anyway, it’s whatever Kane wants, at whatever price he exacts, because remember, you’ve already handed him the rezoning, so you’ve cut the ground out from under the community ENTIRELY.
In short, if Council does what Kane wants, it will betray the public trust and shut the door on citizens having a say.
3.And by the way, Point No 3: Where is the community in all of this?
Community engagement by Kane has been ephemeral at best.
Bonner says they haven’t negotiated with the community because Council told them not to.
It’s almost like the Mayor cut a sweetheart deal with Kane, and while WE’RE all trying to figure out whether Biden won or Trump, YOU ALL have been busy behind our backs.
Taxpayer Subsidies: Not Needed Then, Not Needed Now
Give it Up for John Kane, A Power Grab
After the Election, Raleigh Still has Work to do
Advocates Speak Out on Downtown South Effects
Kane’s Downtown South Could Be Anything
My Letter to the Mayor and City Council