Tonight at 7pm at the clubhouse in the Chancellor's Ridge subdivision in south Durham, the Boylan Development Co. and their development team will hold a community meeting to discuss a huge 1,200-home development proposed for a 165-acre parcel at the intersection of NC 751 and Fayetteville Rd. near the Chatham County line.
If the early reaction to the project since word starting leaking about it earlier this week is any indication, this may go down as one of the most controversial development projects in the Bull City since the much-debated approval of the Streets at Southpoint mall a decade ago.
After all, the site plan's not been submitted and no one knows more than a couple of sentences' worth of detail about the project -- just that it would bring 1,200 homes, 500,000 sq. ft. of retail and office space, and possibly be the site of the rumored South Durham YMCA plus possible school and firehouse facilities. Still, the chair of the County Commission and at least one City Councilman have already come out expressing strong skepticism about the project's chances of making it through the zoning and annexation process, and the N&O published today a staff editorial calling for local officials to discourage the developer from proceeding with the application in the first place.
Frankly, the current forecast for development proposals anywhere in the region is cloudy at best, precisely because the skies aren't. The drought has created a sensitivity to water supplies and conservation in the area.
(Is that caution an overreaction to the current situation, given the time horizon for when new housing units will come online versus the water supply available at that time? Probably -- but it's an overreaction equal and opposite in strength to the complacency and underreaction after the 2002 drought, so maybe it's a sign officials and the public in Durham are finally clued in to the challenges of our natural resources. More on this subject later today.)
So take a public already at a boiling point over water. Stir in an environmentally-sensitive location on the edge of Jordan Lake -- a massive resource that, experts tell us, is the clear future source for potable water for Durham, Orange, Chatham and parts of Wake -- in the midst of South Durham, where public opposition to new development has been well-organized in recent years.
Then sprinkle a measure of the Durham Comprehensive Plan, which calls for the parcel in question to be low-density residential, precisely because of concerns that intensive development could bring damaging run-off to Jordan Lake. The site where this project would be located is zoned for one dwelling unit for every two acres; the proposal calls for a density 15 times higher than that.
What you end up with is a recipe for controversy. Expect heaping servings of it at tonight's neighborhood information session.
What, exactly, do we know about the developer here? The Raleigh-based Boylan Development Co.'s web site lists a portfolio consisting primarily of apartment and low-rise commercial office space in and around the Triangle. The developers have proposed one similar project, the Main Street Square mixed-use development in Holly Springs; that project is of a similar density but on a far smaller scale -- 266 residential units and just 70,000 sq. ft of retail/office space on 40 acres. Approved in 2005, the project's groundbreaking occurred in spring 2007. (Boylan is also developing The Landing at Southpoint, a small condo project further north on NC 751.)
Expect to see and hear comparisons from all sides to Meadowmont, one of the Triangle's first mixed-use development integrating retail and residential in a denser environment (hat tip to Gary and Steve for reminding me that Southern Vilalge came first). The project was highly controversial when proposed a decade ago, but is also hailed by even some wary of development in general as a model of what can be achieved with community input and planning. (For comparison's sake, it's worth noting that Meadowmont has a similar number of dwelling units but half the commercial/retail space, and is located on a full 435 acres of land in Chapel Hill.)
We'll have a report on tonight's community information session tomorrow at BCR.