Raleigh May Not Fight New Homes Near Its Noise Zone

RALEIGH -- As growth continues to gobble up available land, the area surrounding Raleigh-Durham International Airport is seeing more construction.

A proposed rezoning would make way for townhouses or apartments just outside an invisible border where airport noise is considered too loud for residential development.

Developers Landquest would like to put the homes on about 8 acres of a 24-acre tract where the Restlawn Memorial Gardens cemetery sits.

Landquest president Kyle Corkum said the company also plans major improvements to the cemetery.

It used to be that the Raleigh-Durham International Authority frowned upon most residential development in the vicinity of the airport, according to Greg Hallam, senior planner with Raleigh's Planning Department.

"In the past, the airport authority has opposed development close to the airport but the Council has gone ahead and approved residential development," said Hallam.

Buyers of residential property within certain zones have to be notified of the noise and sign an "avigation easement" when signing their deed to the property, stating that they're aware of the noise conditions.

The easement also states that the buyer won't take any legal action against RDU.

The 24-acre tract on which Landquest wants to build is northeast of the Glenwood Avenue exit of Interstate 540, just across from RDU. Currently, all 24 acres have "Airport Overlay District" zoning that prevents residential construction. Landquest wants that limitation removed for eight of the 24 acres.

While the RDU Authority will make a recommendation, it's up to the city to make the final decision.

"The airport just wants to be involved with the development of the area, ensuring no residential areas are established where the noise is too loud," said Armando Tovar, noise officer with the RDU Authority.

Residential uses (except for hotels) are prohibited in the Airport Overlay District, which was originally designated by county officials to prevent residential development too close to the airport.

But sound-estimating models developed after the zoning was established allows residential development where airport noise does not exceed 65 decibels.

"It happens to work out that when we reach the 65 decibel level, [a higher] percentage of people who live there begin to develop negative attitudes against the airport," said Tovar.

As it turns out, the projected 65 decibel line, which takes into account a planned runway, the trajectory of aircraft and the lay of the land, cuts across the Landquest property.

Tovar added that this wouldn't be the first time the airport zoning has been lifted in the area.

"There is precedent for this," said Tovar, mentioning Leesville Forest, a townhouse community on the other side of ACC Boulevard from the project.

Corkum said the deed restriction don't apply to apartments because tenants can more easily change their living situation if they're bothered by the noise.

Corkum said townhouses and apartments are also easier to build in a way that would cut down outside noise.

"It's easier to manage the sound level," he said.

In November, Corkum and other Landquest representatives scheduled a meeting with neighbors. According to public records, one resident showed up for the meeting with mild concerns.

The rezoning went before the Northwest Citizens Advisory Council in December. The CAC will discuss it twice more at its meetings in February and March before the case goes to the City Council for a public hearing.

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