Research Triangle Park, NC (Jan. 31, 2018) – Before the first piece of track touches any ground along Orange and Durham counties’ light-rail project, GoTriangle, Triangle J Council of Governments and Gateway Planning want the Triangle community to talk more about ways to use community goals to guide the coming growth around the line’s nearly 20 stations.

To assist the conversation, on Feb. 6 the three agencies will bring together national experts, local elected officials, business owners, developers, transit planners, community members and others interested in helping create the framework for inclusive communities that help the most people prosper.

The event, called the Connecting to Opportunity Summit, will run from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center. A reception will follow at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Durham.

Too many other U.S. regions have tried to address surging land and housing prices around new transit lines when it’s too late to keep from leaving some people behind, said Patrick McDonough, manager of Planning and Transit Oriented Development at GoTriangle.

“As we build the light-rail line and other transit projects in the region, specifically and strategically addressing economic development and affordable housing around the stations is just as important as laying down the track and having trains to run on it,” McDonough said. “Retail, office space and other development near stations will provide job opportunities in highly accessible places, but it’s also imperative that people can afford to live on the line and connect to those opportunities.”

Among the summit speakers will be nationally known experts in affordable housing, the small-house phenomena, transit-oriented development and planning. The agenda includes Meea Kang, senior vice president of Related California and an expert in sustainable design and affordable housing, and Peter French, president of Rising Barn in Texas and an expert in how to use small sustainable homes to create economically diverse communities.

Charlotte, for example, has found there is too little affordable housing along its Blue Line light-rail system.

“It’s often hard to see the economic and social opportunities in something that is truly new, like a light-rail line,” said John Hodges-Copple, regional planning director for the Triangle J Council of Governments. “With this gathering, we can begin to show both what is achievable and what we can do together to make sure opportunities are available to all. It’s pretty clear that if we want to preserve and create affordable housing along the light-rail line, we are going to have to work hard, invest resources and be creative. And the best way to do that is to bring everyone to the table early in the process.”

Plans for the summit were included in the application that GoTriangle, in partnership with Durham city and county, Chapel Hill and TJCOG, filed seeking a $1.6 million federal grant specifically for transit-oriented development planning. The grant was awarded in 2016.

What is transit-oriented development?

The idea of transit-oriented development is to vastly reduce the need for driving by using train stations as “town centers” for creating dense, pedestrian-oriented communities that include offices, homes, retail space, parks, grocery stores and restaurants. Plans usually also call for bicycle-friendly streets and easy connections to bus routes.

“By fostering a sense of place along the light-rail corridor, the Triangle region has an opportunity to not just grow big but to grow well,” said Brandon Palanker, a member of the Gateway Planning team. “An inclusive approach to development, rooted in neighborhood design, will help create vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that include a range of living choices for people from every part of the community. By marrying land use, transportation and place, this approach will enhance the region’s economic competitiveness nationally, positioning it for responsible growth, attraction of new employment and prosperity at the local level.”

The 17.7-mile light-rail project between Chapel Hill and Durham is one part of approved long-term transit plans. Orange, Durham and Wake counties all have 10-year transit plans in place that also call for greatly expanded bus service that includes routes connecting with the light-rail line and with a planned commuter rail line between Garner in Wake County and Durham.

In July, the Federal Transit Administration approved the light-rail project’s moving into the engineering phase of the federal Capital Investment Grants Program. Construction is expected to begin in 2020. When it opens, anticipated to be in 2028, the line should provide more than 26,000 trips per day as it connects people to three major universities, three major medical facilities and three of the top 10 employers in the state.

The Connecting to Opportunity Summit will open with remarks from former Durham Mayor William V. Bell, a former member of GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees and longtime transit advocate. Among the panel discussion topics will be “Gateway Station + Patterson Place: A case study in opportunity and place-based economic development,” “#Housing4all” and “Shrinking the region by growing together near transit.”

Find an agenda and information about attending the summit at bit.ly/todsummit.

“There’s a saying that the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the next best day is today,” McDonough said. “Similarly, the best time to plan around housing affordability was 20 years ago, but the next best day is today. We’re still far enough out from the opening of light rail that we can marshal our resources and create the right public policies. The opportunity to get it right is before us now.”

If you go

  • What: Connecting to Opportunity Summit
  • When: Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: Durham Performing Arts Center
  • More info: bit.ly/todsummit
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