Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Looking at Raleigh, From the Outside In

From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

How high will Olympia go?
How high should a city's buildings get?

Should property owners be allowed to tear down a house and put up another one?

Those two hot issues arise from coast to coast when local governments talk about planning. Recent stories in newspapers in Olympia, Wash., and Raleigh, N.C., touched on the two issues, which often spark discussion here in the coastal Florida counties of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte.

Olympia is a great little town that treats lightly the august fact that it is Washington's state capital. State agencies are housed in storefronts, there is a healthy alternative music scene and an annual parade through town called the Procession of the Species.

The parade gives creative people a chance to costume themselves as their favorite creatures (as I recall, there is only one rule -- no rabbits -- because parade originators figured there should be at least one rule). Pictures from the Procession of the Species can be seen here:

Olympia is also home to Evergreen State College, a fine liberal arts college with the geoduck -- a saltwater clam -- as its mascot. The school has no football team to help advance knowledge of the geoduck.There is, however, a geoduck fight song, and I do my part to advance knowledge of the geoduck by proudly wearing the Evergreen t-shirt that was a gift from a friend, then-Olympian Chris OBrion, when I visited that fine city.

Let's get back to building heights and teardowns.

Last Saturday, reported The Olympian's Rolf Boone, "About 130 people, including some who hissed and booed," were shown images of what downtown Olympia will look like if a zoning change is granted to a company that wants buildings 90 feet high and 65 feet high erected on the isthmus -- a narrow spit of land in a city with views of the Olympic mountain range.

The current height limit of 35 feet lets people to see the mountains, pointed out one opponent of higher buildings. That's not an argument of much use to opponents of high buildings in Florida.

In Raleigh, the City Council is pondering whether to create "neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which are seen as a way to regulate teardowns, or the practice of replacing older homes with larger ones," David Bracken reported for the Raleigh News & Observer.

Developer Mark Masengill recently told City Council, "Everyone's property rights should be protected and not regulated by you."

Paul Brandt, who heads a neighborhood council, said, "I do believe that while we need to renew Raleigh, we need to renew Raleigh with respect."

That's an interesting yardstick.

Larry Evans is a Sarasota Herald-Tribune blogger. He can be reached at

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