ANNOUNCER: Let’s play Real Estate Jeopardy!
CONTESTANT: I’ll take local developers for $600, Alex.
This developer is the first in Durham to request an affordable housing density bonus, since it became available in 2003.
a) What is Scientific Properties? No, sorry.
b) What is Austin Lawrence Partners? Only if you consider $500,000 affordable.
c) Who is Roger Perry of East West Partners? You’re kidding, right?
The correct answer is: Who is Bob Chapman?
Chapman developed Trinity Heights and parts of the Geer and Foster streets neighborhood. He’s also behind Church & Cleveland Partners, which is advocating for a two-way downtown loop and the infill development that will likely follow.
His latest project is Rose Walk, 5.6 acres in the 700 and 800 blocks of West Club Boulevard; for further orientation, that’s between Duke and Ruffin streets. Download Z1500020- Rose Walk Club Boulevard
Chapman plans to build 70 units there, which includes the density bonus. City ordinance states that to qualify for the bonus, a developer must designate as affordable 15 percent of the maximum number of units allowed by the zoning. We won’t bore you with the math, but in this case it equals nine affordable units.
Because the land required a rezoning to allow for higher density, 10 units per acre, Chapman presented the proposal to the Durham Planning Commission Tuesday night.
After much back and forth between the commission, Chapman and the planning staff, the proposal passed 11–0. However, that approval came with the stipulations that Chapman and planning staff work through the buffer and green space commitments.
Landscape architect Dan Jewell told the commission that Rose Walk will be designed as a pocket neighborhood, characterized by homes of different styles that face a common green space, and thus, have smaller private yards. Cars park behind the houses, accessing them via a loop, which obviously, will be two-way.
Pocket neighborhoods have been heralded as the Cure for Ugly Developments.
“These pocket neighborhoods are a wonderful alternative to the four-story apartments going up all over the place,” local Realtor Bill Anderson told the commission.
But they’ve also been cursed as the Ruination of Many a Neighborhood. I wrote about pocket neighborhoods in September, noting that a developer could tear down an old house, even an historic one after waiting the required year, and build a couple of expensive homes on the lot with some shared space. While a pocket neighborhood by definition, it would not be one in spirit.
"I have to eat my words. I didn’t think the density bonus would come before us." —Planning Commissioner DeDreana Freeman
Although the acreage is largely vacant and heavily wooded, there are two brick rental houses at 708 and 710 W. Club Boulevard, which will have to be moved or torn down. According to Durham property records, they were built in 1944 and 1945. Since their owner lives elsewhere in Durham, the houses appear to be rentals.
What will replace them? Currently the plan calls for four to eight row houses, 18–36 cottages, 27 single-family homes and eight to 12 flex units, most of which will be affordable rentals. However, as Patrick Young of the city planning staff pointed out, “cottages” and “flex units” are not defined in the development ordinance—and will need to be before City Council holds a final vote on the project.
(Young also seemed miffed that Chapman had sprung several aspects of the proposal, including the affordable housing density bonus, on staff at the last minute.)
A gully and creek run through the middle of the property, raising concerns among neighbors about drainage and flooding. “We could preserve the creek and retain the topography as much as possible,” Chapman countered.
Yet every Rose Walk has its thorn (sorry, it’s late). “I’m extremely excited at the prospect of using the density bonus,” said commissioner Rebecca Winders, also a member of the Coalition on Affordable Housing and Transit. “I think this is going to be a great project. But I think it needs some more work. It’s not quite there yet.”
One shortcoming is buffering. Commissioner Tom Miller asked Chapman to guarantee that a buffer would be erected to shield the development from the I-85 ramp. “You need to shield your residents from that,” Miller said. Chapman agreed to plant a thick stand of evergreen trees and shrubs to drown out the noise of semi trucks braking and motorcycles revving toward the interstate.
Abby Bartel, who has lived on Ruffin for 13 years, told the commission she is concerned about traffic, which is already congested along that stretch, and the effect of extra students on Club Boulevard Elementary.
“I always knew there would something go there,” she said. “But I thought it would be better.”
Alas, it could also be a lot worse. Just look at 605 West and 300 Swift. The Ruination of Many a Neighborhood.