Written by Colin Campbell | TRIANGLE NEWS & OBSERVER
RALEIGH — After months of heated debate among Hillsborough Street business owners and neighborhood leaders, the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday approved plans for a seven-story student apartment building across from N.C. State.
The 24-unit apartment building will replace Two Guys Pizza, The Keg bar and other two storefronts. Opponents of the proposal fear the project could pave the way for more tall buildings on Hillsborough Street, which has many structures that back up to single-family homes.
But in a 5-3 vote, the council majority said that more student renters on Hillsborough would create more demand for transit service. The development doesn’t have any parking, and residents are expected to walk or bike to class.
“I think it’s about time we take a leadership role by creating density in transit corridors,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said, noting Wake County Commissioners’ claims that the area isn’t densely populated enough to support high-frequency bus service or light rail.
Opponents of the development – including Mayor Nancy McFarlane and councilmen Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson – say they’d support a five-story apartment building on the site.
“All of those (benefits) are achieved at five stories,” McFarlane said.
Crowder said he doesn’t buy the argument that taller apartments will bring better transit.
“We already have density to support transit with N.C. State University,” he said. “We are setting up a bad precedent on the edge of neighborhoods.”
The apartments, dubbed Hillsborough Lofts, won’t be the first seven-story building on the street. A new Aloft Hotel under construction across from the Bell Tower will open next year with seven stories.
Neighborhood leader Donna Bailey drew a distinction between the two developments.
“We all felt there was a public benefit in the hotel,” she said. “This is just another student-only housing project. There’s no public benefit.”
But Councilman Wayne Maiorano said the majority of people he heard from – including business owners and the West Raleigh Presbyterian Church behind the site – favored the development.
“This is the kind of case that we as a city have asked for,” he said. “I think I was overwhelmed with support for this, especially in the immediate area of this building.”
While five council members voted yes, some said they struggled to make a decision.
“On this one I’ve changed my mind four or five times,” John Odom said.