Shaw University will ask the city of Raleigh to rezone its historic campus to allow buildings up to 40-stories tall on the university’s downtown property.
The rezoning is needed, university officials said, to put the historic Black university on solid footing after years of financial concerns and backlogged campus maintenance.
“We are fighting for our very existence,” Shaw University President Paulette Dillard said.
“Work with me,” she said. “Work with our community because Shaw has an opportunity to make a difference. But we will make that difference by working together, being honest and deciding the best way forward.”
A community meeting was held Monday night at the university’s Estey Hall Auditorium Monday night with more than 150 people attending in person and virtually. Shaw University has called downtown Raleigh home since 1865 and seen the influx in development surrounding its campus for decades.
The campus, about 28 acres, mostly sits between Wilmington, South and Person streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Shaw needs this rezoning for greater financial flexibility that doesn’t rely on student tuition, Dillard said. The university would keep ownership of the land but would be able to lease the property to developers to allow taller, denser retail and housing.
The university could build anywhere from three to 12 stories with its current zoning and now is requesting going up to 30 and 40 stories. The rezoning will also ask that some of its property be removed from a historic overlay district, though officials promised they wouldn’t destroy historic property.
The exact plans for the property, if it is rezoned, aren’t finalized. Shaw would undergo a master planning process to decide the best way forward after the rezoning process.
‘Getting closed in’
An architectural rendering that showed tall buildings surrounding the campus caused some concerns from neighbors and alumni.
“I saw a lot of high-rise buildings, but I didn’t see much of Shaw University,” said Eugene Merrick. “We don’t seem to be expanding the university footprint. We seem to be getting closed in.”
Both Raleigh City Council members Corey Branch and Stormie Forte attended the meeting.
“I was happy that they were able to get some community feedback to hear about some of the concerns and challenges of the neighborhood, alumni and folks that have been directly impacted by whatever development they choose to do,” Forte said. “I certainly hope there will be some minority participation with minority developers and minority businesses. But hopefully, they will keep the community engaged and have more conversations about what longtime residents want to see in the area.”
What’s next: The official rezoning application will likely be submitted in the next few weeks and will include some conditions about preserving the historic properties on the campus, said Mack Paul, the attorney representing the university in the rezoning.
Once a rezoning application is submitted it will have to be reviewed by the city’s planning commission and the Raleigh City Council, which will include a public hearing.