Drought town hall wrap-up: The venue runneth over ('cuz our water doesn't)
More thoughts on the drought

Boylan Development Co. proposes massive development in southern Durham

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.

Comments

Lisa B

Funny, I was driving past that intersection on my way to an Xmas dinner a couple of weeks ago and I thought to myself "Self, I wonder why no developer has come in and clogged up all this space with overpriced yet shoddily built apartments and condos yet? It seems pretty ripe for that sort of thing being so close to Southpointy." Just because I thought it doesn't mean I'm for it, of course. I don't believe the way forward for Durham is to Cary-fy itself ... especially in light of the water crisis.

Michael Bacon

I don't see anything wrong with this development that, oh, say, $100 million in developer contributions to infrastructure wouldn't fix.

Dave W.

The zoning shouldn't change...why do we have zoning ordinances, and spend time and money on comprehensive area plans to direct growth if things are thrown out the window when an out of town company waves some money around and says "lets stick a bunch of stuff over here"?

The last thing we need is more instant mega-neighborhoods in what is still a rural area that could maintain its character. Between 14 years in Raleigh, and 5 in Durham, I've seen this mistake made repeatedly and it is pretty frustrating/sickening and is causing an accelerated decline in one of the main good things about this area -- a unique sense of place.

If our area is going to retain what elements of "place" and "uniqueness" are still here and valued, then we can't turn South Durham into suburban Wake County.
(That approach also hurts urban Durham in that it loses energy and focus needed to increase density and restore neglected infrastructure)

I'd venture quite a few people have moved to Durham because it has the potential to have decent city life, identifiable neighborhood feels, AND rural areas without having to travel more than 8-10 miles (as opposed to a sprawling mess that you have spreading from Wake County with very little differentiation of land character and a redundant mess of limited options).

I have friends who live in South Durham for this reason, and friends like me who live/work in/near downtown Durham who love going out that way occasionally and noticing the different places and type of environment that exist just a 20 minute drive or 45 minute bike ride away from each other.

I think these kinds of values should come first in our society. Accomodating growth can be solved in other ways, without causing new problems and killing the chance that Durham County could have both city life and rural life.

Problems associated with gentrification of in-fill to accomodate population growth can be solved if we attacked them. I think they are ignored/by-passed when we consider allowing mega-neighborhoods in the woods.

Seems like a somewhat separate issue, but If a major goal is commute-friendly homes for RTP workers then lets put it INSIDE Research Triangle Park (or right next to it as Michael suggested) not 8 miles away.

All that said, preserving water quality at a major reservoir alone seems important enough to maintain the zoning as is.

KH

I think developers are watching the progression of Davis Park near RTP before they step into that area. I would love to see another dense mixed-use development in and around RTP. I know so many people who stay in NE and SE Raleigh (where the more affordable homes are) and work in the park. Personally, I would give up a front yard to not be stuck in traffic for close to an hour.

I'm still not sure they could "live" having a Durham address. :)

My concern is that people in Durham give lip service to density. They want open space...yet they talk about heights of buildings which reduce a building's footprint. People want affordable housing as long as it not near them. People love living near Jordan Lake where they can FERTILIZE and WATER there beautiful lawn yet don't want anybody else to move there for fear of polluting the lake.

I think the end result of this whole process will be positive whether there is a development or not.

BTW, Southern Village was the first mixed-use development. I know Meadowmont was talked about for years before it was built though.

steve bocckino

Woodcroft predates Southern Village. Roger Perry developed both Woodcroft and Meadowmont. You could probably call Treyburn mixed use, too. Not exactly "new urbanism" though.

Henry

Living in Chancellors Ridge and having grown up in South Durham, I might prefer no development.
However, the recent projects and land prices in south Durham make further development inevitable. Given this, the development by Boylan is welcome next door. It should prove to be a benefit for the entire city.
As for the inevitability of development, South Durham’s rural nature was traded away years ago by city in search of income. There are currently five construction sites within 1 mile of The Streets at Southpoint and more on the way. Toll Brothers begins to sell home sites at The Hills of Southpoint on Fayetteville Road next week.
While I applaud their efforts, opposing further development is futile. The most we can hope for is wise, sustainable development – making developers follow sustainable green building and development practices such as the USGBC’s LEED rating systems.

KH

I agree completely with you Henry. Rather than making absurd statements, people need to focus on making each new development the BEST possible aesthetically as well as environmentally.

It would also be good to differentiate between mixed-use, multi-use and mixed-housing. Multi-use is Patterson Place (eventually), Renaissance Village and Briar Creek. Mixed-use is more like the Erwin Rd. developments (Office/Residential over retail). I would like to add walkable too but that may be asking too much. I see Woodcroft as more of a mixed-housing (condo, townhomes, apts., single family) development.

With all of the new development, it would great if connectivity (preferably pedestrian and bike) between developments was taken into consideration along with auto. Woodcroft Parkway from Fayetteville to Hwy 55 was a great requirement for the Woodlake and Auburn developments.

Michael Bacon

Khalid,

For me, this is ultimately about infrastructure, particularly transportation. There is just no way that 751 and Fayetteville can handle 1200 homes PLUS all of the 200 home subdivisions that are going to pop up all around it.

The Great Leap South to I-40 meant a massive road construction campaign, and now we have more roads than we can resurface on any sort of reasonable schedule. Going further south with major developments is only going to make the problem worse.

You keep saying that people are opposed to density. There's some truth to that, but don't tar all of us with the same brush as a handful of utter boneheads in Trinity Park. I've gone before city council to argue for higher density zoning in my neighborhood, and the result is Station 9. I'll happily do it again too, as enlightened developers are starting to propose much higher density developments around downtown. And unlike Frank Wittenburg or the idiots from Connecticut who wanted to do 22 stories at Heart of Durham, these might actually get built and be successful.

Density in the right location is a very good idea indeed. Density in an area where the minimal infrastructure is already overtaxed, in a sensitive watershed, outside of the urban growth boundary, is just bad, bad, bad. The right location for this project is at Glover Rd. and Angier Ave., not a mile south of Southpoint.

KH

Michael - I could actually see a project way larger than this for Glover/Angier (especially after adding a Durham Freeway intersection). A TOD project deserving of another potential train stop between RTP North and Alston Ave.

As far as the Southpointe "Triangle" (bounded by I40/Hwy 751/Fayetteville), it would be good to keep the densest areas in this Triangle. This would serve as Southpointe Activity Node. If we get the developers to foot the bill for necessary road and connectivity improvements (that also benefit them), the end result will be better than the status quo of a death by 1000 cuts (piece-meal cul-de-sac typical suburban development).

I think having 500K sq. ft. and 1200 units here in a true mixed-use environment would definitely be healthier than strings of the typical Strip Centers, Garden Apts. and Subdivisions. I'm also curious if the current Future LU (2 DU/acre vs. rural designation mentioned earlier) is more damaging than a mixed-use dev. with drought-resistant landscaping. Houses on half-acre lots will typically be heavily fertilized and WATERED. There would probably be less open space that would be set aside also. So the houses would encroach closer to the watershed area.

I'm not saying rubber-stamp this but let's see if we can set a new example for suburban development. The suburbs need their Village Centers too.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

If we wait on transit we'll be waiting a long time. Public transport will not be successful unless we have crushing traffic like Atlanta. Keep building in South Durham, and eventually we'll get a constituency for transit.

I'd love to see I-40 get flexible tolls a la northern virginia, with dedicated bus lanes. Until then, buses are for poor people because of discrimination in the form of vehicle insurance rates, registration fees, and immigration status.

Dave W.

Even when developers supposedly foot the bill for road and connectivity improvements they don't pay to maintain them. The DOT and the city are already decades behind BASIC maintenance. I think it makes sense to get caught up before exacerbating the problem.

The Comprehensive Plan targets denser areas where this kind of project makes sense, let's give it a chance, and have that guide development.

I agree that cul de sac development around the lake/751/Fayetteville area would not be good...but don't think that means accepting this out of place density idea. There is large ground between the two poles to come up with better.

KH

Just a note: Improved roads push the clock back on their maintenance for several years (I don't know how long) which would actually help with our deferred maintenance problem.

Under the current zoning, someone could build approx. 400 houses on half-acre lots. That number would easily increase with a rezoning to 600-800 units using clustering. All of these people would HAVE to leave the site for anything and everything. There most likely destination would be Fayetteville Rd. for groceries, etc.

I really don't think the developer will build 1200 units but he's not going to ask for 800 units if that's what he needs because we're going to say that's too many. Is he going to have 500k sq. ft. of retail? Probably not. My HOPE is that the "potential" development will be a destination as well as providing houses. This area could use another grocery store and other services so let's hope it's not in a strip center.

When you take 1200 units (or whatever) in the context of this area of Durham, it's a drop in the bucket. The overall density especially due to the amount of wetlands and open space does not change. In other words if you spread those 1200 units over 300 acres, is it still too much density???

Melissa Rooney

With regard to KH's Comments that this area could use a grocery store...

We have a Harris Teeter AND a Kroger on the corner of Fayetteville and 54, a SuperTarget Grocery store practically IN Southpoint Mall, and ANOTHER Harris Teeter being built just a couple miles down the road on the corner of 54 and 751 (Hope Valley Road). How can anyone say we need ANOTHER grocery store (see posting by KH)?

And will this be an independent, co-op, Weaverstreet-type grocery store, or another Harris Teeter? No one's seen the development plan (except Boylan and now the planning department), so we can assume no committed elements at this point.

How long until the oldest of these grocery stores closes, leaving vacant a big commercial space? Or maybe Walmart, Big Lots or Toys R Us will save us by moving in...Cary's getting even closer...

Furthermore, the developers made no mention of access for mass transit (not for buses or any future rail).

It is likely that most residents of these townhomes will work in Chapel Hill or RTP, and they're going to have to DRIVE to work, passing grocery and retail stores on the way -- So they might have to expend the gas to turn their cars off and on one extra time to get their groceries or other items...I can live with that.

This much is for sure. Those who would work in the planned retail for this development won't be able to afford to live there (take Meadowmont, for instance -- homes there are more expensive than the Governor's Club!).

Furthermore, the retirees for which Boylan suggests they are building this are not going to take kindly to all the stairs that will be employed in the parking lots and the townhomes (in order to keep them high density). And certainly these retirees aren't going to have much need for an elementary school across the street.

Again, Boylan submitted a development plan (along with applications for a rezoning and a planning ammendment) to the Planning Dept. yesterday. But they had no such detailed info for neighbors at their nbhd meeting last week. Instead, they showed neighbors a vague map and made only broad statements...somewhat like what Ted Voorhees has referred to as a plan on a napkin. Maybe the president of CR had more details, as they had a private meeting with him before their mtg with neighbors, at large. Doesn't sound like a good beginning to me.

Melissa Rooney

P.S. Ultimately the issue isn't about Boylan's plan, it's about the reliability of the Planning Department and Durham's elected officials. What's the point of investing in zoning and land use plans if they are only going to be disregarded? It is the hired and elected authorities' public obligation to enforce zoning and land-use plans. And remember the current plans are only TWO YEARS OLD. This is a very important, precedent-setting case and should not be taken lightly.

Mark

KH....You forgot the Food Lion in Woodcroft Shopping Center.

I think that Durham has been on a slippery slope with development in South Durham. This project however, represents a free fall. If this project is approved, there really would be no use for any zoning at all. We are talking about a major change in zoning density in a highly sensitive environmental area (Abutting watershed and Jordan Lake tributary) in the middle of a drought. It worries and saddens me that this project is being taken seriously; a reflection of how bad things have gotten with respect to development in the Triangle and Durham in particular.

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