This article is courtesy of David Bracken of the News and Observer.
Twenty years from now, the era of unchecked urban sprawl in Raleigh could be a distant memory.
New homes would be smaller and built close together in urban centers and along major roads. Getting around on foot, bike or mass transit would be not only possible, but preferable to going by car.
That is the bold new vision for Raleigh that city planners will introduce this week. The vision is part of an updated version of the city's comprehensive plan, a document whose bland title belies how dramatically it could affect Raleigh residents and businesses.
If approved by the City Council, the plan would be the vision against which future development in the city would be judged.
"It's just sending a strong message that we want sprawl to end," said Mitchell Silver, the city's planning director.
The draft being released Monday calls for Raleigh to funnel 60 percent of its growth over the next two decades -- about 72,000 residential units -- to downtown, seven urban centers and a number of major road corridors.
The 380-page plan will debut Wednesday evening at the convention center. Residents will be able to talk to the plan's authors and study maps showing how different areas of the city would be affected.
The plan's goal of encouraging urban living and creating more transit options is not revolutionary. Most American cities are moving in that direction. But moving so aggressively would be a major shift for Raleigh, a place where urban sprawl is rampant and reliance on the automobile is nearly total.
Over the last 25 years, thousands of new residents have flocked to the city to live in master-planned subdivisions on the edge of the city, such as Wakefield Plantation and Falls River. That's a pattern Raleigh now wants to move away from.
Although most residents expect downtown to become a center for urban living, promoting intense development in other areas of the city could be controversial with some residents who live in surrounding neighborhoods.
Silver said the plan is an acknowledgement that continuing the current development patterns is not sustainable.
"If we do nothing ... [the growth] will continue just to spread across the region like peanut butter," he said. "We can either intervene and shape the growth or not intervene and continue to sprawl."
The current comprehensive plan, last updated in 1989, is widely considered to be overly complex, difficult to interpret and a relic of a time when concerns over growth were minimal.
The city's population has increased more than 70 percent to about 368,000 since the last update, and more than 200,000 new residents are expected to arrive by 2030. Raleigh has annexed 56 square miles since 1989, and it now encompass more than 140 square miles.
The new blueprint for growth reflects Raleigh residents' own growing realization that retaining the city's high quality of life may require a major change of course.
Over the last year, the city held a series of workshops where it asked residents what they wanted Raleigh to look like in 2030.
The workshops, held when a drought was straining the city's water supply and high gas prices were punishing drivers, elicited hundreds of comments. Many raised concerns about whether Raleigh's current growth patterns are sustainable.
The new plan tries to coordinate the city's approval of new development with the stress those developments will have on the city's natural environment, road infrastructure and water and sewer capacity.
It includes a future land-use map that designates the type of development the city expects to see on every piece of property in Raleigh.
Land along major road corridors and in the urban growth centers is specified for high-density projects. Development of the city's eastern edge, where much of Raleigh's remaining 20,000 acres of undeveloped land is located, is expected to occur at lower densities.
The plan won't change the current zoning for any piece of property, but it will be used to determine whether that zoning should change in the future.
Current plan conflicts
The current plan has been amended so many times over the last 20 years that it now includes conflicting ideas about how particular areas of the city should grow. This has frustrated both developers and residents who want to know how the area around their home or building will change in the future.
"There's a lack of clarity in the current plan," said Mack Paul, a lawyer who frequently represents developers with business before the city.
Paul said tools such as the future land-use map can help both developers and surrounding neighbors determine whether a project would overburden the surrounding streets.
Once adopted, the plan's success or failure will largely depend on current and future elected officials following its advice.
The plan offers a map to Raleigh becoming a transit-friendly city, but it doesn't guarantee that money will be spent to build the commuter rails, streetcars and bus routes necessary to make that happen.
Silver said residents shouldn't overlook the plan's importance. It offers Raleigh a way forward, and if elected officials want to deviate from the plan, they'll have to give a rationale for doing so.
This full article can be found at http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1314723.html