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January 2008

King's Daughters B&B faces Board of Adjustment hurdle Tuesday

The proposal by Colin and Deanna Crossman to transform the old King's Daughters Home retirement home on N. Buchanan into a B&B comes before Durham's Board of Adjustment on Tuesday morning. The Crossmans need two approvals from the BOA -- a minor special use permit to allow them to operate a B&B, and a variance to buffer standards relating to a fence between their property and that of their eastern neighbor.

It's been almost a year since the ill-fated Chancellory at Trinity Park condo project went before the BOA in February, dividing neighbor from neighbor and leading to the creation of a splinter group of neighbors opposed to the project and the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association's support of same. (Full disclosure: I'm on the board of directors of the TPNA, though only since April 2007; in this post, as always on BCR, I'm writing as a private citizen and not as a representative of any civic organization, employer, etc.)

Well, it's eleven months later, and the situation is eerily reminiscent of that found in our last winter of upscale neighborhood discontent. The TPNA again stands in support of the project, while a (significantly smaller) group of neighbors affiliated with the old battle prepares to stand in opposition to the minor special use permit and variance.

Tomorrow's hearing will play a major role in deciding whether the B&B proposal goes through or again falls to a vote of the Board of Adjustment.

To me, this project is in the end of the day a no-brainer to support. Reasonable people disagreed fairly about the Chancellory, and the project's post-mortem provided clear lessons about how neighborhood associations should sometimes work directly with developers, and sometimes only through intermediaries.

The B&B project, on the other hand, is a clear win for the neighborhood, if only for that most basic of reasons -- what on Earth else could possibly be done with this property that would maintain the historic character of the structure while minimizing the impact on the neighborhood?

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N&O series, home tour highlight East Durham renewal

The N&O sometimes gets flak for its once-a-week treatment of the Bull City in Saturday's special edition, but in my book, credit where credit's due for the more analytical and feature-style reporting this allows them to bring to The Durham News. Another great example of that was on display this week with an excellent two-story feature on Uplift East Durham and renewal efforts in the eastern part of the city.

In case you missed them, be sure to check out the story on the neighborhood group's activities, as well as the sidebar story on the City's investments in renewal projects like Eastway Village and Hope VI. Jim Wise did a great job of retelling the efforts of a number of urban pioneers who've set up homesteads in the midst of an area that is quick to get coverage on the TV news anytime a shooting happens, but where the positive stories of people making a difference everyday rarely bubble up to the surface.

Ironically, given the City Council's recent musings on historic preservation, the N&O notes that Uplift East Durham spun out of neighborhood meetings with Preservation Durham, which worked to designate a wide swath of East Durham as a National Historic District in 2004.

Not surprisingly, the presence of incentive programs through the state government are a factor in helping to finance renovation and renewal for houses in the district. (Just to be clear, the preservation property tax abatement at the heart of the City's debate is a different program -- but the fundamental principle remains.)

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Crosland proposes mixed-use development for Erwin Rd.

Add another location to the list of mixed-use developments in the Bull City: The Durham News revealed this week that Crosland is proposing such a project for the busy Erwin Rd. corridor on the site of the old Bristol Court apartments and other buildings on the block between Downing and Douglas St.

The developers have submitted their rezoning application with a development plan that contains several committed elements, including a cap on the number of residential units (at 370), and a maximum height of 100 feet for the new structure. The developer also agreed to improve Downing St. from Erwin to Lakeview Park and to add bus shelters on Erwin; both elements appear to have helped earn the support of the adjacent Crest Street neighborhood, as Jim Wise reported in The Durham News.

The application for rezoning includes the site of the apartments along with the buildings that today house Francesca's and Subway on Erwin Rd., both of which would presumably by displaced by redevelopment. "CFP Partnership" is the registered owner of all three complexes (with a Bahama address); the gas station at the corner of Douglas & Erwin is owned by the indefatigable M.M. Fowler and, I suspect, ain't going anywhere.

Crosland describes the project in their application as a four to eight story vertically-integrated building with commercial and residential uses (no retail). Structured parking would be built into the building itself, along with a small open lot at the property's rear. All vehicular access would be made through Douglas St. and Downing St. -- a plus, in terms of avoiding driveway cuts onto Erwin.

A "useable open space area" is promised fronting Erwin Rd. to accommodate pedestrians, though other than serving as a lily pad from which your Frogger character can begin its quixotic journey across the road to Duke, it's difficult to understand the likely uses of such a reservation. (Added bonus: Get noxious on auto exhaust fumes!) The developer also promises another open space area dedicated for residents on the interior of the building.


Power Plant begins renovation at American Tobacco

The artificial river may be turned off at American Tobacco, but the construction work continues apace throughout the winter. Phase II of American Tobacco, the renovations of the north side of the original factory area, have continued over the past couple of years in stages. The Hill Building, home to Motricity, wrapped up first and delivered to its tenants in 2006; the Lucky Strik building delivered to Duke Corporate Education in 2007.

The Noell and Old Bull buildings, which will primarily contain residential apartment units along with a few commercial spaces, remain under construction and are likely to wrap up in February, according to a story in the Triangle Business Journal earlier this month. (The H-S also reported this weekend that the first tenants have moved into apartments and office space in American Tobacco's Noell building.)

For all this, the Power Plant building at the center of the complex, right behind the water tower, has remained closed and hasn't been touched by the development work elsewhere on the campus. All that looks to change in the coming weeks, however, as tenants in the complex have been alerted that construction fencing will be erected around the building as renovation work is about to get underway on the space.

About 27,000 sq. ft. of space are available in the Power Plant facility, and leasing agent CB Richard Ellis notes "this highly visible building would be ideal for high-end restaurants or office users who want maximum exposure." Dining is a new suggestion for the Power Plant space, which had to our knowledge previously only been mentioned as commercial office space.

Initial plans had called for the coal shed at the north end of the property to be enclosed and turned into a high-end restaurant, but there's not been much discussion of that space in recent months. We expect plans there may firm up once the project's second phase renovations are complete.


Apocalypse to strike Durham on Thu. (may change to rain)

Judging from the crowds at the North Pointe Kroger this evening -- where one could literally not get a single push-cart or handbasket at 6pm -- you'd think the end times were upon us and the Four Horsemen were on the rampage coming up from the Deep South towards the Bull City.

The cause of this mass pandemonium? The threat of some wayward "wintry mix" cascading towards the Triangle from the frigid Arctic (or at least Charlotte). Yes, we might get a couple of hours of slush, maybe some snow.

So, brine up the bridges, overpasses and arterials? Check - done, from the looks of it driving around town this evening. And well done, from the looks of it, by our friends in local and state government.

Prep the emergency action and school closure plans? Check, absolutely so.

Remain vigilant in watching the morning news, all the better to see Mark Roberts make the leap from annoying traffic guy to annoying car dealership commercial guy? Check.

Make hysteria-driven runs to the grocery store in case you run out of bread or milk during the storm? Er, well, check, apparently. After all, it would appear the intemperate weather could last hours, and might require one to eat what's in the back of the cupboard instead of the taste du jour at the corner eatery.

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More on the downtown Durham master plan draft review

As I noted here yesterday, I had to miss Tuesday's downtown Durham master plan discussion due to a lingering illness. Big thanks to City Councilman and regular BCR reader Mike Woodard, who came through with a detailed play-by-play on what went down last night; I've republished it with some edits below (which means, naturally, any errors in the relaying are likely my fault, not Mike's). See also today's Herald-Sun for their summary of the meeting.

Downtown Durham, Inc. and its planning consultant, Development Concepts Inc., presented the draft of the downtown master plan last night before an audience of more than 75 people in the City Council Chambers. The session largely consisted of DDI president Bill Kalkhof and DCI consultants Glenn Gareis and Ian Colgan walking the audience through the plan. (The entire plan is available online in PDF format at http://downtowndurham.com/Master_Plan_Update.118.0.html)

Kalkhof began by pointing out the 2007 plan was essentially an update of the 2000 plan; although the plan was due for an update anyway, Kalkhof noted that a great deal had changed over the last seven years and that downtown has many new players. (As we know, all but one member of today’s City Council is new since the last master plan; Greenfire Development and Scientific Properties are also newly arrived, with Capitol Broadcasting in a far expanded role since 2000. And, most importantly, there are many more residents and businesses at play downtown than there were seven years ago.)

Kalkhof also noted that the 2007 plan was drafted through a much broader process than the first version, involving more people, a slightly wider geographic area, and more issues.

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Additional screenings coming up for "Durham: A Self-Portrait"

Did you miss the premiere screenings of "Durham: A Self-Portrait" back in late 2007? Saw it but want to see it again?

Well, fear not, Durham-lover. The team behind the film has more screenings scheduled for the coming weeks throughout the Triangle region. To the best of our knowledge, each screening is free and open to the public (but you may want to check with the venue first to make sure)--

  • Jan. 18: Duke Clinical Research Institute (Second Floor Theater), noon
  • Jan. 21: Duke Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration (Griffith Theatre, Bryan Student Center), 7pm
  • Jan. 28: Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Stone Black Cultural Affairs Center), 6:30pm
  • Feb. 15: Hayti Heritage Center, time TBA
  • Mar. 8: North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh, 2pm
  • Mar. 30: NC Triangle Jewish Film Festival (Galaxy Theatre, Cary), time TBA

The team is still at work putting together more screenings around North Carolina beyond the Triangle, and is still working with local schools on how to incorporate the educational lessons from the film into the curriculum. More on this as it develops.


Downtown Durham master plan update open house tonight

We talked here last month about the draft release of the updated downtown Durham master plan, updated throughout 2007 by Downtown Durham Inc. and City and County governments.

Tonight's your chance to have your say on the project at a two-hour open house starting at 6:30pm at the City Council chambers downtown. Stop on by to talk with project stakeholders about the update and to give your feedback on what you think about the latest prescriptions for downtown Durham.

Unfortunately, I'll have to miss this due to a nagging cold (it's that season again), so if you attend and something interesting happens, post it here in the comments, would you?


Oval Park renovations underway (well, halfway)

The good news: After a long and protracted planning process, the Oval Park renovations are finally underway. (Oval Park, in case you're not familiar with it, is the popular Watts-Hillandale public park bisected by W. Club Blvd., featuring a kids' space on the north side and tennis and basketball courts on the south end.)

The north end of the park will feature its existing plus new playground equipment, along with a small water play area. (Before the comments fill up on this post: no, the water feature won't operate in the event of drought.) Also added will be amphitheater seating on the southern end of the park, set into the hill that's near Club Blvd., facing a small ballfield on the site. Other renovations include safety and repair upgrades. Check out the site plan over at the Watts-Hillandale web site if you're curious.

The bad news? Although the southern end of the park was scheduled to be renovated, too, that's been "value engineered" (gotta love that word) out of the project due to cost overruns. Which means the asphalt and screened gravel impervious surface that used to be vaguely recognizable as a basketball court will remain its inscrutable self until -- well, until the City magically finds a few million spare bucks, or manages to pass another parks/rec bond.

Personally, I wouldn't bet on the former.

Which makes this another project for which cost overruns and inflationary pressures from the mysterious Sino-Indian steel price cabal leaves a Durham effort a few dollars short.

BCR's suggestion: You know those very attractive "Coming Soon!" signs that appeared all over town at each bond project site, conveniently erected just before the fall elections?  I'd suggest lopping 'em off to be half of their current size, to better reflect the real purchasing power we're likely to see when the projects get going.

Then sell the scrap off for its spare metal value. We might get a couple of water fountains or DPR's famous oil-cans-on-posts trash cans out of it!


The Alston Ave/Fayetteville Rd. trade: Er, what, Mayor Bell?

I'll confess to some significant head-scratching after reading Saturday's Herald-Sun article on the proposed Alston Ave. widening, and the Mayor's reaction to a proposal from staff to redirect funding from the road project to improving Fayetteville Rd. from Cornwallis south to Woodcroft Pkwy.

As we briefly mentioned in covering last Monday's City Council meeting, at this Thursday's work session the Council reviewed a draft proposal from transportation manager Mark Ahrendsen that would call for NCDOT to scrap the widening of much of Alston Ave. to a four-lane divided highway, a project that has drawn objections from Durham pundits (including some very well-expressed thoughts from Gary at Endangered Durham, who has an update at his place today) and to redirect the funds towards widening Fayetteville Rd. instead.

Ray Gronberg covers the subject well in his story today in the paper, including legitimate concerns from city manager Patrick Baker that led to the discussion being postponed until PAC1 and NECD constituencies are formally consulted on the idea -- a wise idea. But it's tough to figure out exactly what's driving Mayor Bell's thinking on the subject.

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