October 27, 2020

Proposal would transform area of Wake Forest Road/I-440 into a ‘Walkable Midtown’

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Raleigh’s planning commission hopes to take Midtown from a place to pass through to a destination.

Thursday, the Committee of the Whole examined plans to develop a more connected commercial and residential district called “Walkable Midtown.”

However, not everyone supports the proposal.

According to the proposal, the plan incorporates walkability, transportation improvements, stormwater improvements, public spaces, and housing and employment opportunities.

The proposal includes what planner refers to as “Seven Big Moves.”

The first includes building to two new crossings over Interstate-440.

A multimodal overpass connecting Barrett Drive with Quail Hollow Drive, and a pedestrian-bicycle overpass connecting Bush Street with Industrial Drive.

The proposal calls for multiple “green streets,” which include using stormwater infrastructure to slow cars, and places to walk or bike.

To handle traffic congestion, the plan suggests creating a street grid to provide new options for driving or walking.  Traffic speeds on Atlantic Avenue, Six Forks Road, Millbrook Road would be reduced 35 mph, according to the proposal.

Cost estimates

  • Multimodal bridge: $13 million
  • Ped/bike bridge: $3 million
  • Bush Street green street: $317,000

The plan also includes creating a transit center, and improved stops.

Planners proposed a network of greenways and on-street bike lane called “The Midtown Ring.” According to the proposal, the goal is to connect neighborhoods with destinations such as North Hills, the Waterfront District, Wake Tech, and Duke Raleigh Hospital.

According to the proposal, planners want to provide a range mixed-use development while respecting the scale of older nearby residential neighborhoods. According to the report, rezoning proposals that request seven stories or more of residential space should include affordable units. 

The proposal includes creating a “Midtown Waterfront District,” bounded by I-440, Atlantic Avenue, Crabtree Creek, and Big Branch Creek. 

The plan calls for a mix of uses, public space, and a walkable “Main Street” along Industrial Drive.

According to City Planner Jason Hardin, a waterfront district was “heavily supported” by 82 percent of survey respondents.

“This plan in its entirety is not necessary,” said Chuck Valdez.

Valdez currently lives in Florida but owns a medical office building at the intersection of Bush Street and St. Albans Drive.

Valdez said he represents several property owners who are opposed to the plan.

“The primary concern with the plan is using taxpayer dollars to enrich a couple of developers and devalue other properties by misallocating change of use, and devaluing the properties by anywhere from 50 to 75 percent,” said Valdez.

Valdez said although he was told his property would be grandfathered in, any renovations to his building would have to comply with new use plan.

Valdez doesn’t support the idea of building new “green streets.” 

He said he’d prefer the city use existing infrastructure to manage traffic flow and improve existing parks and greenways.

“Utilizing what’s there is going to cause less disruption to the community, the residents, the commercial business.  It’s less expensive for the city taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Another concern Valdez raised is building more multi-use offices, and shops. 

He would support developing a medical plaza behind Duke Raleigh Hospital instead.

“In the environment of COVID, as we all know, retail and office has taken the biggest hit.  So to double down on creating more of the most expensive offices and retail, it’s not feasible.  It’s not logical,” he said.

 Officials said planning began in spring 2018. 

It included public input opportunities, as well as outreach to bus riders, shoppers, employees. 

According to the committee, 1,500 people responded to online surveys about the project.

A total of 33 signed up to speak at Thursday’s meeting.

After deliberation, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to City Council.

Council will then hold a public hearing on the plan.

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