Raleigh puts brakes on urban sprawl

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City leaders expect Raleigh will gain about 200,000 new residents by 2030, and the Triangle area to gain about 700,000 overall.

All those people have to live somewhere, and the city wants to make sure that it controls the growth in an intelligent way. Between now and then, 120,000 new housing units will be built.

The comprehensive draft plan calls for the city to funnel 60 percent of its growth into downtown, seven urban centers, and along a number of major road corridors.

"It's just sending a strong message that we want sprawl to end," City Planning Director Mitchell Silver said.

The capital city's population has grown 70 percent since the last comprehensive plan came out in 1989.

That comprehensive plan is widely considered to be overly complex, difficult to interpret and a relic of a time when concerns over growth were minimal.

The new plan tries to focus the majority of development in eight so-called growth centers: downtown, Brier Creek, Crabtree Valley, Cameron Park near NC State, West Raleigh, the Triangle Town Center area, the area near WakeMed and the North Hills area.

"It makes sense for Raleigh to become more urban. We're now one of the top 50 cities in term of size or population, 48 or 49; it just doesn't make sense to have things spreading out like Los Angeles or Atlanta," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Meeker says those growth centers are likely to have the look and feel that already exists in the North Hills community.

"You'll see people who may not only live there but also work there as well as shop there, so it becomes a little mini downtown itself," he said.

Silver agrees, but he adds that not all of the growth centers are designed to look identical.

"Northeast is more of a shopping destination," Silver says, referring to the Triangle Town Center growth center. "So you may see more office and retail and not as much residential there, so, each one will be different."

Silver says the Comprehensive Plan calls for more transportation choices and for more dense development in the growth centers. In other words, smaller houses on smaller lots. It's a shift in thinking from the last plan.

"Land was plentiful, gasoline was plentiful, people enjoyed driving everywhere. And so homes tended to be a lot larger on larger lots, further away from the core," Silver said. "People are gonna want to have walkable communities, smaller communities, live in more urban environements. They want housing choices, but they also want transportation choices."

The plan also calls for development along primary transportation corridors, including Atlantic and Glenwood Avenues and Six Forks, Millbrook, Falls of Neuse and Creedmoor Roads, to name several.

Silver envisions a city where there are more buses and express buses. But rail is crucial to the city's plan for how it wants to look in 2030. High-speed rail, commuter rail and streetcars all play important roles in Raleigh's future.

"Getting around the region without a car will be much easier," notes some of the literature the city's planning department is distributing along with the comprehensive plan.

The plan itself is not binding; it is up to elected officials to first adopt the plan in the spring of 2009 and then to choose when and how to follow it in approving developments in the future. Meeker says it is very valuable and is usually followed.

"The comprehensive plan will direct how Raleigh will grow in the future," Meeker said.

The public will have a chance to talk about the plan at an open house at the Raleigh Convention Center from 6:30 - 9 p.m. Wednesday. A series of public meetings are also planned January 13-15.

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