Lakewood Y community forum at 6pm this evening
Wine-and-chocolates tasting at P&O tomorrow to benefit Communities in Schools of Durham

Downtown revitalization: a busy next few months?

Even though we're entering the holiday season, a time when things slow down in many industries, all indications are that Durham revitalization and renewal in and adjacent to downtown is likely to keep in the forefront of the public eye in the Bull City.

First up, we have the Rolling Hills subdivision redevelopment, a project in the planning and evaluation stage for the better part of a year. Rolling Hills was built on the ashes of urban renewal with over a million dollars in city-backed loans, but neither developer was successful and the project's ended up an eyesore in the old Hayti/Fayetteville St. area (not to mention a financial failure).

Today, the N&O is reporting that City Council will next week consider a draft redevelopment agreement for Rolling Hills and part of the St. Theresa neighborhood adjacent to it. The players in the draft agreement are national developers McCormack Baron Salazar (which specializes in redeveloping distressed urban neighborhoods) and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (which is active generally in urban renewal/re-use, and has its hands in American Tobacco and the DAP area here in Durham.)

A McCormack representative was asked about their approach and asked whether the Southside neighborhood redevelopment in Greensboro (see this early post or Gary's blog for more) would be a model for what the developer would propose in Durham. His answer, posted at the Southside Durham blog:

"One significant feature of our community-based approach is the upfront development of mixed income housing for all income levels — at a scale large enough to ensure the neighborhood’s transformation, permanently. We also insist on addressing local schools, employment programs and related community support services right at the beginning of the process."

Rolling Hills is right across the street from Heritage Square, which Scientific Properties is planning to redevelop once it acquires a retail development partner. More on the Rolling Hills agreement next week as it develops.

Next up: The downtown Durham master plan, which has been under a review and renewal process throughout 2007, spurred in part by the faster-than-expected redevelopment of downtown with projects like American Tobacco and West Village. Word is that the updated plan is nearing its unveiling, and will at minimum address concerns about the barrier that the NC Railroad Co. lines presents between the city center and the American Tobacco/DBAP/Performing Arts Center district.

Last, and perhaps most intriguingly -- Greenfire Development has said all along they'd release a master plan of their vision of redeveloping their properties downtown, but that they wanted to wait for the DDI master planning process to end. Does this mean that, with the downtown master planning process ending, that we'll get to hear more about what their plans and intentions are for downtown? The rumor mill holds that we may in fact learn more about their plans and their desired partnerships over the next few months, if not sooner.

Which is to say nothing about the West Village Phase II or Golden Belt redevelopment projects, both underway with construction crews busily working at both sites.

Expect quite a bit of news -- and likely public debate -- in the months to come.


claire Jentsch

City Council in Action 11/19/07
My group newhopefordurham is very interested in the development of Durham - City and County. But the city is the main focus because it can become a place that respects natural resources while designing safe neighborhoods with a first class education system. After all, no use in having high taxes yet overcrowded and/or under-staffed schools. And parochial and private schools further create financial and social disunity in a Community.
Last week we protested a rezoning request at the City Council. Developers were asking to be able to build 308 apartments off of Garrett Road. The Durham City Council voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, in spite of many citizens writing them about some of the flaws in the Plan.
We were disappointed with the outcome of the Rezoning. We will always consider it another serious step in the wrong direction. We do think it was supported without any respect for children and water.
What we thought were important points (more kids would be in crowded schools and stormwater was not to be regulated) were ignored. In fact, Councilman Mike Woodard told my husband on the phone five days before that there would be no changes with the Request. So much for a Hearing.
We had 29 citizens signed up to speak; the other side had 7. Of our 29, 25 lived in Garrett Farms or Waterbury/Lansbury. Just three of their speakers were from one of the neighborhoods. All three were on the Garrett Farms Board and had chosen to side with the Developer and not hold a final community meeting at the clubhouse.
Both sides were given 15 minutes, with the Developer allowed to have a 5 minute rebuttal at the end. Our group had given the Council a list of almost 100 other signatures on our Petition; nevertheless, Lee Pollard (president of Garrett Farms Board) stood and said he was representing the citizens who were not there.
When the number of new students was addressed it was immediately decided that the Developer had to pay $1,000 for each of the 29 children. This ignores the approximately $22,000 needed to provide the physical facility needed to educate a child, and which increases our taxes. And, obviously, the teacher to child ratio is of no consequence... I am closely involved with this issue as a teacher who has taught at Southern and Northern High Schools in the last seven years.
Two of our speakers (we narrowed our talkers to 5) focused on the Developer's lack of a sophisticated and ideal way to use stormwater as a resource.
Bob Jentsch had worked as a city planner in Fairfax, Virginia for 24 years, and was also Director of Planning there. He had taught Urban Planning for over 10 years at George Mason University. Upon retiring he served on Durham's Planning Commission for six years. Another speaker was Hope Taylor from Clean Water for North Carolina, an agency dedicated to saving our environment. She earned her Ph.D in Biochemistry and has devoted her career to studying and improving development in this State. She has been concerned about Jordan Lake Reservoir since her college days at UNC-Chapel Hill. Even so, the Council is committed to its Long Range Plan of 2005 . So it did not accept Ms.Taylor's offer to assist in improving the water quality that will eventually flow into Jordan. Jordan Lake is on EPA's "impaired water" list, by the way.
Ms. Taylor's five minute presentation about the proposed development, and her suggestions that the City revise ordinances so that stormwater is captured and reused for irrigation and landscaping were disregarded. So we will continue to use drinking water when it would be cost effective to have a better program. Soon the Cape Fear Standards will be set, yet this development has deliberately been slipped in just in time.
Jordan Lake Reservoir is already polluted and it will cost $1.2 billion in taxes for Durham over the next 25 years to clean it.
The Council seems to think that it is a step ahead of global warming and Mother Nature.
Development is a man made disaster and can be monitored.
We need to keep in mind that the first step in preparing for the future is in recognizing present and future needs of the people and the environment, then go the the drawing board.

Claire Jentsch from newhopefordurham

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