Tuesday's city council debate over plans for a town center-style community in North Raleigh featured some interesting exchanges over the pros and cons of suburban-style development.
Suburban-style, as in businesses with drive-thru windows.
Councilman Thomas Crowder voted against rezoning for the project, called 5401 North, saying he needed more assurances that developers wouldn't include strips of drive-thru stores such as fast-food joints, pharmacies and banks.
Crowder got some help from Councilman Russ Stephenson, who raised similar questions before ultimately voting in favor of the project. Stephenson wondered what would happen if the land ended up in the hands of a different developer. This is a common concern during rezonings.
"We wouldn't necesarily have the intent we have now with the current owner," Stephenson said. "This could all be developed as single-story development."
The 400-acre project, on hold for the past two years amid the recession, sits off Louisburg Road just north of I-540 near Wake Tech's north campus.
Stephenson asked if the city could get guaranteed limits on fast-food restaurants, big-box stores and gas stations. Hold on a minute, said Councilman John Odom.
"The people out there need services as they go home," Odom said. "They need a drive-thru McDonald's, whether you like those things or not."
Mayor Charles Meeker played the role of conciliator, saying the city shouldn't restrict the plan to the point that it becomes economically unfeasible. "We want to give these folks a chance," he said.
In the end, Stephenson said the project has a better chance to succeed as a compact, walkable community than most developments proposed in Raleigh.
If there is a gas station, it would have to meet design standards required by the city, an attorney for the developer said. As for housing, row after row of single-family homes wouldn't produce the return on investment to make the project work, said planning director Mitch Silver.
The council voted 7-1 in favor of a rezoning and updated master plan for 5401 North, and developers say they hope to start construction on a first phase by early next year.
In addition to a future middle school and community park, the project will include up to 2,250 single-family and multifamily residential units and 1.6 million square feet of office and commercial space, including possibly a hotel or motel and a bed-and-breakfast inn.
No word if the B&B will include a drive-thru circle to unload your bags.