Written by Colin Campbell | TRIANGLE NEWS & OBSERVER
RALEIGH — The city’s planning commission on Tuesday approved a seven-story student apartment building on Hillsborough Street that some neighbors think is too tall.
Developer Cary Joshi, who owns the Two Guys Pizza restaurant, wants to raze the buildings that house the eatery, The Keg bar and two storefronts next to The Alley bowling alley. He plans to build a 24-unit building for up to 96 students, with ground-floor retail space. It would be similar to a new building down the street anchored by Saxby’s Coffee, only taller.
Planning commissioners praised the plan as the latest step in Hillsborough Street’s revitalization.
“This sort of development on Hillsborough Street begins to take students out of the existing University Park neighborhood and puts them on Hillsborough Street with less of a need for a car,” commissioner Erin Sterling Lewis said.
But Donna Bailey, vice chairwoman of the Wade Citizens Advisory Council, said an overwhelming majority of the group’s members think the building is too tall. Bailey added that most neighbors would support a five-story building.
“We’re very concerned about the precedent it’s setting,” she said. “We want to support the project. We like everything it’s doing – except the seven stories.”
Bailey and others fear the project could pave the way for taller buildings elsewhere on Hillsborough Street. The Two Guys property backs up to a church – which supports the new development – but other storefronts share property lines with homes. Neil Riemann, who leads the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association a half mile away, said he’s also worried tall buildings could soon border residential backyards.
The developer’s attorney, Mack Paul, dismissed “the idea that one case is going to somehow become the test for every project,” pointing to the debate over a seven-story hotel across from the N.C. State Bell Tower. The hotel was approved despite opposition and is now under construction.
And while planning commission members approved the apartments in an 8-2 vote, they said the Raleigh City Council needs to weigh in on the height debate.
“There’s a lurking policy decision here that the council needs to address: Does our comprehensive plan say five stories or does it say 75 feet (tall)?” said member Steve Schuster, an architect.
The city’s guidelines encourage a five-story limit, but they define that as a 75-foot building – the height Joshi has proposed for seven stories.
That’s a key question as more student apartments are proposed elsewhere on Hillsborough. To the west, Raleigh-based Blue Sky Services is planning a five-story building on Friendly Drive. And neighbors are rallying against plans for a 100-unit apartment building at Hillsborough and Montgomery streets.
The Two Guys Pizza redevelopment will go to the City Council on May 6. Opponents of the project, such as University Park resident Evan Kane, are already emailing their representatives.
“It would only increase the intensity of low-rent housing and discount drinking that has been Hillsborough Street’s identity for too long,” Kane wrote.