A Last Minute Coup Against Dix Park?

By Brent Woodcox

Not content to settle with just blocking any change in their own neighborhoods, NIMBY activists turned this week to halting the Dix Park Master Plan process throwing a tantrum over planned development in the city’s $52 million prized possession.

Several people urged the Raleigh City Council this week not to “cannibalize” Dix Park with private development.

A handful of speakers on Tuesday night asked that all references to development and parking be removed from the recently unveiled draft master plan for Dix Park, located just outside downtown.

The plan is the result of more than a year of gathering feedback about what people want to see at the 306-acre campus. Several of the speakers were members of Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and Dix 306, two groups that have worked for years to turn the campus into a park.

“All the references to development that is not for park purposes should be stricken from the master plan,” Joseph Huberman said. “The default action of the plan should be no private development. There should be no discussion or negotiation regarding leasing park property for private use without prior approval from City Council.” ...

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the New York-based design firm that Raleigh hired to plan the park, has outlined two different portions of the park: a 21st century, bustling place to visit and an escape into nature in the middle of the city.

The master plan calls for just a few buildings to remain, and buildings will only make up a small portion of the park, said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

“None of what they are worried about is set in stone,” she said. “It’s unfortunate there is a lot of misinformation being circulated, but the master plan is really a guiding document. As we implement each phase there will be another whole process of neighborhood engagement and citizen engagement.” ...

It will be years before the city will look at the next phase and “Raleigh is going to change and grow,” she said. “There are going to be different people here.” Things that are in the plan “aren’t set in stone,” she added.

“That’s the beauty of having this overall guiding document,” McFarlane said. “As each phase is implemented we’ll decide which buildings we keep and what we put in the park. It will be worked out and decided. I don’t want people to be upset.”

Carlton Midyette, who serves on the executive committee of the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, also addressed the council Tuesday night, saying he was only speaking for himself. The Conservancy is a nonprofit meant to raise funds for the park.

“Let’s be careful about the term ‘development,’” he said. “It can be a handy pejorative, a bogeyman of sorts, but there will be development of some sort in Dix Park. Whether it be a botanical garden, a performing arts theater or a trail system. Let’s acknowledge that and not use that term as if it was a communicable disease.” ...
— Anna Johnson - N&O

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So after a year and half long public process with over 73,000 participants, dozens of public meetings and sign off from the Master Plan Executive Committee, a few disgruntled people want to completely throw out all the progress that has been made on this long term plan for Dix Park. Why? Simply because they didn’t get their way. And because they are scared to death of the word, “development.”

dix park engagement.jpg

Apparently, the Dix 306 vision for the future of Dix Park is straight out of History Channel’s 2009 documentary series, Life After People.

But if the plan was going to be to let nature run its course in Dix Park, why on earth were Raleigh taxpayers asked to spend $52 million on this 308-acre tract of land in the first place. Just let the place be overrun with vegetation, undisturbed by highly scary developments like botanical gardens, walking trails and *gasp* buildings.

The only way this park can fail is if there is not a dedicated revenue stream to help support it. Raleigh taxpayers should not be on the hook for every dime of the cost of turning this land into a real park. And if they are, you’ll have political candidates rise up to challenge why this park and not my park? Charles Francis already raised those issues in the last campaign and he’ll be the first of many if we don’t figure out ways to fund the development/operations of Dix. I absolutely agree that the people who hold development rights in the park should have skin in the game. Personally, I favor requiring those people to be an active part of affordable housing solutions in the neighborhoods proximate to the park. But if we don’t leverage these opportunities to capture true value for the city from the development of the park, it will just happen on the outskirts and the city, as well as the park’s future visitors, will benefit far less from that arrangement.

But maybe that’s exactly what NIMBY activists want. They want to build a second rate park that will draw fewer visitors and provide fewer public spaces for members of the community to congregate together. So long as we aren’t meeting together, maybe we won’t get any crazy ideas like developing a non-profit co-working space or a brewery incubator in that space.

Dix Park should be a place with attractions and activities for all ages and all interests. It should be a park for the people. Demanding that it remain an undeveloped cow pasture is not a vision that is worthy of Raleigh’s future nor a good way to honor the park’s past.

Brent Woodcox