The ambitious multi-billion dollar development proposed for south Raleigh was hit with another blow Tuesday when the Raleigh Planning Commission unanimously denied the application.
The Raleigh City Council still has final say, and will consider the proposal after a Dec. 15 public hearing.
The nearly 140-acre mixed use project would have included a soccer stadium for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC soccer teams, whose owner, Steve Malik, was behind the project with Raleigh-based Kane Realty Corp., the developer of North Hills. It had an estimated total investment of some $2.2 billion.
In the end, developers could not convince commissioners that the project will bring more good than harm to a part of Raleigh that has historically been neglected by major development.
"This rezoning application shows a vicious disregard for equity and fairness," said Commissioner Michele McIntosh. "The application's refusal to acknowledge and mitigate the upheaval and damage that this project will bring to our social fabric is not healthy for our city."
Perhaps anticipating concerns about community displacement, developers announced late Monday afternoon they would work with Raleigh Raised Development in order to "guarantee significant participation of local minority businesses throughout the entire development," according to a press release.
RRD is co-founded by LeVelle Moton, men's basketball head coach of N.C. Central University. It was formed on July 20, according to paperwork filed with the N.C. Secretary of State.
Moton spoke in favor of the project on Tuesday, calling himself a kid from the Lane Street district in south Raleigh. He called Raleigh a "tale of two cities" split between the north and the south, with the north receiving more of the benefits. He said this project would be a shot in the arm to south Raleigh.
"I just think with this project we get an opportunity to create generational wealth for not only minority businesses but Black people," he said. "And allow these people to have opportunities that didn't exist before."
But some commissioners feared that an injection of high end office space, retail and expensive apartments would serve only to further drive out residents in that area. Already, gentrification has hit many parts of south and east Raleigh hard.
Quoting the Dalai Lama, Commissioner Nicole Bennett said her prime purpose was to help people; and if not to help them, at least not to hurt them.
"That strikes me because I feel like this rezoning at this time – and I said I think it's just before its time – has the potential to hurt a lot of people," Bennett said. "Perhaps the people that would be helped outnumber the people that would be hurt, but I think the significance of the people that would be hurt is enough that I have to vote 'no' today. Because I think the timing is wrong, and I think we would be hurting some of our most vulnerable people. "
Downtown South traces its roots back some 18 months when John Kane and Malik made a splashy announcement on the rooftop of The Dillon, the warehouse district high rise developed by Kane. That came approximately two years after Kane and Malik first proposed a similar project, also anchored by a soccer stadium, for the north side of downtown Raleigh in the Halifax-mall. That deal fell through partly because the developers could not reach an agreement to develop on, or acquire, the state-owned property.
The projects were part of an application to secure a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, though MLS has since expanded into other cities, including Charlotte, making it less likely that it would consider Raleigh for an expansion team in the near future. The Courage play in the top U.S. women's league, the NWSL, while NCFC plays in the United Soccer League. In terms of skill level, the USL is comparable to baseball's Triple-A, though not all clubs have affiliations to MLS in the same way that minor league baseball teams are connected with Major League Baseball. NCFC is one of those teams that does not have a parent club in MLS.