A newcomer to the Bull City might scratch their heads over the ongoing mention of the "development review process" in the local papers, and here at BCR, and on other blogs, and neighborhood listservs, and so forth.
It's a complicated subject, and one that gets very quickly into detailed discussions of land use practices and policies. Heck, even the City Council is taking its sweet time with the subject, with Ted Voorhees spoon-feeding pieces of the recommended development review streamlining a month at a time until January.
But if you want an introduction to what is, I suspect, the subtext behind the debate, you could do a lot worse than to closely read and contrast the perspectives in two separate guest columns last week: a Wednesday op-ed in the Herald-Sun supporting development review streamlining, and a guest column in Saturday's The Durham News raising caution about growth.
First, the H-S column, from Durham Chamber of Commerce vice-chair (and former Board of Adjustment chair) Bill Brian and Durham Capital Program Advisory Committee chair Patrick Byker, both of whom are active in local development circles:
[T]here are two parts to the development process. The first is zoning, which is a legislative decision that only our city or county elected officials can make, with plenty of notice provided to any potentially affected citizens. The zoning determines what use (retail, office, industrial or residential) can be developed in a particular spot, and at what density.
The second phase is the site plan, which shows how the project actually will be built to comply with technical requirements of existing law. The site plan is an administrative approval, based on reviews of plans by numerous city and county departments.
For both the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and the Capital Program Advisory Committee (CPAC), the focus on streamlining the development review process has been directed at the site plan stage. Too often, unnecessary conflicts between departments and arbitrary decisions within Durham's government can slow this process to a crawl. According to MWH Global, the city's own consultant for speeding up delivery of bond-funded projects, the site plan process in Durham takes months, while in similar cities, such approvals take only weeks.
If the Brian/Byker piece speaks to the "how" of development -- that is, the technical process by which development moves forward or, more frequently, becomes caught in the cog of local governance -- the Rev. Carl Kenney addresses the "what" of development, or what kind of growth is or is not good for the Bull City in his view, in his The Durham News column this week:
Slow the massive growth. Take a look at how Durham is beginning to look and feel like -- someone hold my hand -- Raleigh. There's nothing wrong with Raleigh. It's a nice place with wonderful people. Some of my best friends live in Raleigh. According to many of the national lists, it is one of the best places to live in America. I celebrate that, but I don't want to live in Raleigh....
[Durham has] homegrown businesses in an area with an idiosyncratic appeal. I get tired of the same ole, same ole that can be found in typical city, U.S. of A. I don't want a Wal-Mart and Target on every corner surrounded by the normal cast of national chains. I'd rather buy my books at the Regulator versus adding to the Barnes & Noble fortune....
Growth and change can be good. But they also can be the catalyst that slowly confiscates that special brand that makes places like Durham so special. Our quest to become bigger and better could ultimately deprive us of the things we love most about our community.