News: CJ Exclusives

Green For Thee, But Not For Me?

City's top planner advocates New Urbanism, but lives classic suburban lifestyle

Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver owns an SUV and lives in an upscale neighborhood while he spearheads a new comprehensive plan that promotes public transit and small housing.

Since joining the city’s Planning Department in 2005, Silver has advocated policies that would create denser neighborhoods, curb suburban development, and encourage residents to use rail, bus, or bicycles for transportation rather than cars. Meanwhile, Wake County tax records show that Silver owns a 3,565-square-foot home in Evans Mill, an affluent north Raleigh neighborhood just inside the Interstate 540 outer loop.

The house, valued at $364,720, has a two-car garage and is situated on one-third of an acre, the documents say. Silver bought the house in July 2005.

Other records show that Silver owns a four-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander SUV, which averages 16- to 17-miles-per gallon during city driving, according to a government fuel-economy calculator.

Asked by Carolina Journal, about his housing choice, Silver said he was “probably going to move within the next few years.”

“We have always been looking for other locations,” he said. “We are where we are right now. So, I think that personal decision was one when I had a short time to find a place to live to move here, and it was the easiest place to find. But over time, I do not believe I’ll be staying there. I don’t know where I will be, but I will definitely move some place in Raleigh.”

It’s a 10.9-mile drive from Silver’s home to the planning department offices downtown, according to Google Maps. Silver said he would use public rail-transit to commute to work if it becomes available.

“I certainly have to find a home that would be nearby a transit node, but yes, I would certainly use it if I had to do local trips between here and Durham or within the city during the day,” he said.

Silver unveiled the 388-page first draft of the new comprehensive plan Dec. 3 at the Raleigh Convention Center. The draft contains hundreds of policy recommendations for future growth in the city, and includes goals such as reducing “global warming pollution” and using “land-efficient” models for housing. The draft is an update of Raleigh’s 1989 comprehensive plan.

During his remarks at the unveiling, Silver indicated that demographic shifts in the coming years would increase the desirability of smaller homes. “[We] believe the trend moving to the future of smaller households and single households [means] the market will respond by providing smaller lots and smaller homes,” he said.

Some public officials who support the new plan own houses closer to downtown. Ken Bowers, deputy planning director of the city’s Planning Department, owns a 1,236-square-foot home on North East Street valued at $368,705. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker owns a 2,831-square-foot house on Boylan Avenue valued at more than half-a-million dollars.

Others lead suburban lifestyles. City Councilwoman Nancy McFarlane, who chairs the council’s comprehensive planning committee, owns a 3,037-square-foot home in north Raleigh situated on about an acre lot and valued at $348,690, according to tax records. Part of her campaign Web site describing her position on growth says, “Sustainable development is key. We cannot sacrifice the future to satisfy the cravings of the present.”

David N. Bass is associate editor of Carolina Journal.