Developer sheds more light on Morris St. partial two-way idea -- and hints local restaurateur plans a move there
We've written here before about the recently-discussed idea of a mid-block traffic circle of sorts on -- of all places -- Morris St. downtown, after the N&O piqued everyone's curiosity with a mention of such a device in mind for the one-block, one-way stretch.
The goal? Using a tiny rotary to allow Morris St. to be two-way from the Downtown Loop to the middle of the block, providing access to a parking lot, the Durham Arts Council and a Morris St. building that has a possibility for new life.
At Thursday night's Partners Against Crime District 5 (PAC5) meeting, representatives from the development team were present to get feedback from the community on the idea, which is looking to move from artists' renderings to full-stop approval.
The project's Wilmington-based developer says that he'd like to redevelop the 10,000 sq. ft. Greenfire-owned building at 108 Morris St. from a defunct nightclub (Cafe Blayloc) into a new restaurant, one which he says would require a heightened level of vehicular activity.
Capital Centre Development's John Fife is mum on exactly what restaurant would go there -- though after Thursday's PAC5 meeting, the project team did go so far as to say the prospective tenant would be a "local restaurateur" who was excited by the downtown dining scene and was looking to relocate into the city center.
(A fact which, in and of itself, is sure to lead to interesting speculation on just who's poised to make the jump -- and depending on the source of such a relocation, possible interest at the neighborhood and community level, too.)
But according to the developer and their unknown client, the re-do on Morris St. is a prerequisite to bringing the project to fruition. (Image courtesy Kimley-Horn.)
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Fife appeared before a relatively quiet PAC5 meeting along with Richmond-based Ben Cummings, a partner in the development; members of his traffic engineering team at Kimley-Horn and architect Scott Harmon (also a PAC5 co-facilitator; Harmon disclosed his conflict at the meeting's outset.)
The developers noted that the idea of Morris as a two-way street was a long-settled and discarded idea. "The answer to the question would have been no if we wanted to change the traffic pattern for the entire street," Fife said, noting that would require a traffic circle at Five Points that downtown stakeholders and City officials decided years back would detract from the historic character of the intersection.
But while the sight distances don't work if you had two-way traffic as far south as Five Points, things are just fine if you allow two-way traffic only to the mid-block point.
The restaurateur needs the vehicular access to their front door that such two-way design would provide, Fife noted; that's especially true given the proposed presence of a valet parking area right in front of the building's front door.
With a traffic circle, cars heading north or south on Morris would be able to access valet parking as well as the parking lot between the building and the Durham Arts Council, which Fife was quick to note is municipally owned and would not be proposed to be dedicated for the project. (Northbound Morris St. traffic would access the valet lane on their right as they navigated the circle; southbound traffic would essentially double-back for valet and surface lot access.)
Mind you, don't go getting any ideas about dressing up the mid-block circle in ways like the residents of Duke Park have with their Glendale and Markham roundabout.
The circle won't be very tall, since due to the angles of attack, service vehicles may actually have to drive over it in the course of their duties, though it would be just tall enough to discourage automobile access.
"We don't want people to be [standing in the traffic circle], quite honestly," noted the project's engineer from Kimley-Horn.
Fife added that the project would also have an impact on the aesthetics of Morris St., which was largely excluded from 2007's streetscape effort.
"[The project] not only changes the traffic pattern, but adds streetscape improvements along part of the street," he said.
Developer-funded improvements along Morris would focus on the segment between Five Points and the traffic circle. The sidewalk on the east side of Morris would be deepened out into what's today part of Morris St., with the developer wanting to have enough rooms to add outdoor seating for dining along with the requisite benches and bike racks to match the rest of downtown's recently-renovated street environment.
Comment from residents on the proposal -- either for or against the idea -- were scarce.
Former City Councilwoman Lorisa Seibel asked what impact the project would have on parking for the Durham Arts Council, which occupies the old City Hall facility and Morris and the downtown Loop. "I'm assuming it would probably help," Fife said. "Currently the plans are to valet park for both facilities," the developer added.
Melissa Muir from Downtown Durham Inc. added that the DAC liked the idea, thinking it would make it easier for drivers to get to their facility.
Lisa Miller from City/County Planning added that the Historic Preservation Commission had a chance to provide a "courtesy review" last week and had questions; the developer will bring the project before the HPC formally on February 1, 8:30am, at City Hall in the second floor Committee Room.
Which may, incidentally, just be about the last public-style hearing for the effort.
Besides the February HPC meeting, city staffers at Thursday's PAC5 meeting said, the change to Morris would likely require only administrative sign-offs from departments like Public Works and Transportation, and that the matter likely wouldn't have a path to come before City Council.