“Request for Sidewalks Divide Raleigh Neighbors”

The News & Observer | NewsObserver.com

Midtown Raleigh News, June 10, 2015

Request for sidewalks divides Raleigh neighbors, By Mechelle Hankerson

RALEIGH – For the past 10 years, Rhonda Welfare has been taking walks along Mills Street in the Hi Mount neighborhood, a cluster of small homes built after World War II near Wake Forest Road.

The area doesn’t have sidewalks, but Welfare doesn’t mind. There’s not much traffic.

But like many older neighborhoods in Raleigh, Hi Mount is changing. Small one-story homes are being torn down to make way for bigger houses.

Now, a request for the city to install sidewalks in the neighborhood has highlighted a divide between neighbors who want to maintain the area’s historic character and those who want to see changes.

Welfare and two other residents, Sherry Flynn and Leonard Polk, are trying to discourage their neighbors from supporting a petition that could allow sidewalks along most of Hi Mount’s streets.

In a letter sent to neighbors, they took issue with the size of the proposed sidewalks – 6 feet wide – and how the petition process could be easily swayed by developers and private owners, many of whom have bought old homes to tear them down and build new ones.

“Hi Mount is a neighborhood in transition,” the letter reads. “Voting on sidewalks at this time entitles developers, investors and property owners currently selling to have equal impact on a neighborhood in which they do not intend to live.”

Marshall Rich lives in Hi Mount and also buys and sells real estate in the neighborhood. He submitted the public works petition to the city in an attempt to get sidewalks on five streets.

Rich said his primary motivation for asking for sidewalks was to create a safer space for pedestrians.

“I have two little girls that I cannot let walk down the road,” he said.

Traffic has picked up in the neighborhood the past five years, Rich said. It’s gotten worse since the area is seeing more construction.

Raleigh’s public works petition process allows anyone to ask for public works improvements to a neighborhood, even if they don’t live there. Petitioners must collect signatures from 51 percent of the neighbors for it to go to the City Council for consideration.

Welfare said 6-foot sidewalks would intrude on some residents’ front yards.

“Reasonable-sized sidewalks might be more acceptable, but I still don’t know if I think that’s necessary,” she said.

Only two developers were involved with the creation of the Hi Mount neighborhood in the 1950s, so the homes are fairly uniform, according to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.

Most of the homes, which were made with limited supplies available after the war, are small but have big yards.

Hi Mount is not a historic overlay district, a designation that puts stricter limits on development, said Martha Lauer, executive director of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.

Currently, Raleigh has six historic overlay districts. To be zoned as a historic district, a neighborhood must go through the city’s rezoning process, which can take months.

Public works projects in historic districts can be less intrusive to fit with in with the neighborhood, Lauer said.

Even though it doesn’t have an official “historic” label, Lauer said, neighborhoods like Hi Mount give people a glimpse into the city’s past.

“Raleigh is under tremendous development pressure now, and I do think that many of our historic neighborhoods are under attack,” she said.

Some Hi Mount residents say the sidewalks would strip the neighborhood of its history and identity.

Welfare, who moved to Hi Mount in 2005 to be closer to her job in state government, said she was drawn to the area’s one-story homes with spacious front yards.

“I imagine that you can’t stop progress, but I’d like to continue to feel like a neighborhood,” Welfare said.

Residents have until June 25 to submit a petition to the city requesting sidewalks in Hi Mount.

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