Stef Mendell and Russ Stephenson Ignore Public Input in Effort to Block Student Housing

Apparently, being pro-slow growth means being anti-student housing

By Brent Woodcox

In just the last year, we have seen the city council ignore the recommendations of the Citizen Engagement Task Force and vote down the compromise proposal for Airbnb regulations put forward by the Short Term Rental Task Force. Now, unfortunately, comes another story of public input and citizen engagement being shunted aside for the benefit of power hungry city councilors like Stef Mendell and Russ Stephenson.

The city would take a more cautious approach to development along Hillsborough Street and in Cameron Village under the latest recommended version of a plan that would help shape growth to the west of downtown.

A committee of the Raleigh City Council is recommending a “moderate” growth plan that would more strictly limit the height of buildings in the area near N.C. State University. It’s a departure from previous versions of the plan that would allow for more dense redevelopment and taller buildings.

“I’ll be very honest with you,” said Stef Mendell, who was elected to the City Council in November. “I don’t like a lot of the development that I’ve seen in the Cameron Village area in the last few years. I’d like to see things that preserve the character of the neighborhood – buildings that aren’t as tall, buildings more set back from the street and more trees and vegetation.”

The recommendation last week from the growth and natural resources committee is an early sign that some of Raleigh’s elected leaders want to put developers on a shorter leash as the city continues to grow. A shift toward a slower-growth, less-dense approach could affect not only the Hillsborough Street area, but the rest of the city as well.

Raleigh began asking residents three years ago to help plan the development and transportation future of Hillsborough Street and Cameron Village. City staff presented “moderate” and “high” growth scenarios to the public in the spring of 2015.

But after getting more public input, staff soon started to workshop a “compromise” plan they hoped would ease neighbors’ concerns about changes to the area and also satisfy those who want to see the area become more dense. ...

One might ask, "What is behind all of this hostility toward growth in this area? Isn't it right on the edge of downtown and close to NC State? Shouldn't we expect growth and density there?" And one would be very reasonable to ask that. Keep in mind that this section of Hillsborough Street is very close to many high end downtown adjacent neighborhoods. Homes in these neighborhoods have median list prices of $700,000 or more and median price per square foot of $295 or more. It is populated by millionaire NIMBYs who apparently detest the idea of college students living anywhere near them. But don't take my word for it. Just listen to the NIMBY spokesperson, Donna Bailey.

Hillsborough Street has been a major battleground for years in a broader debate about how to preserve a neighborhood’s character as redevelopment and new growth occur. Developers have built lots of apartments in the area to cater to college students.

Taller buildings in some parts of the corridor would be fine, said Donna Bailey, chairwoman of the Wade Citizens Advisory Council. But she prefers the latest version of the plan. That way, she said, developers who want to build higher could request a rezoning, which involves chances for the public to weigh in.

“If you say five stories from the beginning, you’ll get more student housing projects pouring in, which isn’t always in the community’s interests,” Bailey said. ...

Seth Hollar, of Raleigh YIMBY, has already raised the issue of Russ Stephenson's clear conflict of interest on this site. But attention to how this would personally benefit the councilor has not been enough to shame him out of forcing his opinions on citizens. Of course, we already know that several of the other folks on council were bought and paid for by Stephenson when he overthrew the mayor at the first meeting after the election and made his own appointments to city committees. Now his minions are loyally doing his bidding.

Deciding who would serve on the council’s growth committee became a point of controversy last month. Against the mayor’s recommendation, a majority of council members tapped Mendell to serve on the committee, shifting it toward a more cautious approach to growth.

After committees were set, council member Russ Stephenson said he thought the compromise plan for Hillsborough Street and Cameron Village was too friendly to developers. He prefers the moderate-growth plan. ...

Seth Hollar, co-founder of the pro-urban group Raleigh YIMBY and a member of the advisory council for the plan, said the latest recommendation is based on public input from two and a half years ago, before the compromise had been developed.

“The planners did their job, and the advisory council provided guidance about where people would want height and density,” Hollar said. “All of that work seems to be gone.”
— Henry Gargan, N&O

Nearly three years of work done by citizens to try to make this city a better place to live flushed because of a bunch of million dollar home owners, including one city councilor who stands to personally benefit from the scheme, call the shots in this city. 

And what is Stef Mendell's response to all of this? You can read it right here.

mendell email.jpg

Elections have consequences, indeed. This one did. And, apparently, the consequence is that Russ Stephenson and Stef Mendell rule with an iron fist for the next two years. Citizen input be damned! 

Brent Woodcox