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Ninth St. Plan: Heading for a Monday night showdown?

At this Monday night's City Council meeting, the body will vote on the long-discussed Ninth Street Plan -- and, in the last hours before the vote, a battle is brewing between landowner and neighborhood interests on whether to defer the vote for still-further discussion.

The Ninth Street Plan -- called for in the Comprehensive Plan passed by the city and county several years back, and under development itself since at least 2006 -- contains a number of proposed changes for the compact district in and around Ninth Street adjacent to a once-and-possibly-future transit station.

The Plan includes a so-called "hybrid form-based zoning" approach to Ninth Street, creating restrictions on buildings' shapes and sizes as opposed to traditional use-based restrictions, even while allowing more height and density along the W. Main St. corridor.

Intended to maintain Ninth Street's scale and shape and its pedestrian/bicycle orientation, the outcome of the process has rankled Terry Sanford Jr., developer of Erwin Square (and Brightleaf Square before that) and led his firm to call for a delay to the plan's adoption.

Ninthplan Development on the west side of Ninth Street itself would limited to 35 feet in height in the proposed Plan, or 45 feet with a special use permit. More than Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale asked for (the associations sought no such exception) -- but certainly less than landowners would have liked.

In the figure at left, the orange areas would be classified as "pedestrian business" and subject to the strictest height requirements. Core (brown) areas would be limited to 90-110'; Support I areas (green) could be 60-75' in height, vs. 45' standard for Support II (purple).

Sanford and his land planning consultant, George Stanziale, communicated their displeasure with the plan in communication on Friday to the City Council, in which they asked that a vote on the Plan be delayed one month for further negotiation and discussion.

According to Sanford's letter to the Council, the developer (and son of the Duke president and N.C. governor) agreed with the sentiment of clustering density near the eventual transit station site while drawing down heights closer to neighborhoods, but he complained that the Plan should have allowed high density throughout the Erwin Square property, all the way to Hillsborough St. and including all the undeveloped land between the old Erwin Mill, Erwin Square and Station Nine.

Sanford also complained at what he seems to feel is a raw deal for the land that he and his partners control along the west side of Ninth Street -- including land that supports free parking for the street, something the developer claims he has provided without charge for two decades.

The new lower building heights along the west side of Ninth Street (lower than the currently-allowed 90' by right, 145' by special use permit), Sanford claims, would not support the intensities needed to develop parking decks on that and other sites. "As development occurs to support transit, structure parking will be required. Three story buildings will not support this. We are also curious why we are being singled out after being so generous with our parking," Sanford writes.

Indeed, Sanford argues, the 35-to-45' heights proposed for the west side of Ninth Street between Main and Hillsborough is just too low: "We feel this is a reaction only to what is existing on Ninth Street and does not reflect its true potential as well as the intensity required to support transit."

Intriguingly, Sanford claims that when he and his partners -- who collectively control more than 50% of the property affected by the plan -- approached one-time City/County Planning chief (and now universal zoning scapegoat) Frank Duke about their concerns, he was told, fuggedaboutit:

[W]e were told that the form-based code would regulate building heights, setbacks/build to lines, public spaces, as well as architectural characteristics. However, this information would be used with the idea of maintaining or increasing property values and supporting transit since TTA Station #9 was directly across Main Street. It was not intended to diminish values or densities.

Frank Duke asked us to meet with him numerous times and on each occasion we indicated to Frank that in no uncertain terms would we support a plan that diminished our ability to develop our property to its highest and best use. He repeatedly indicated that he fully understood the issues of values and that if we were not supportive, the plan would not move forward since we were one of two major property owners.

Just 2 1/2 hours after Stanziale/Sanford's request for a deferral, John Schelp and Kelly Jarrett from the the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association countered with a communication to the mayor and Council calling for the vote to go forward as scheduled.

Schelp and Jarrett noted that while Sanford and his partners had maintained industrial zoning for the old Erwin Mill area -- something that's been a point of wary dissent between the neighborhoods and developers for some time -- OWD had been supportive of both the height and density of Station Nine as well as the tall Hilton Garden Inn planned for W. Main St. at Erwin Square.

Both projects, of course, bring more people to the Ninth Street area, providing support for the iconoclastic business district located there. Too much height on the west side of Ninth, on the other hand, might be seen to change fundamentally the character of the district -- something the form-based zoning proposed is pledged to support and maintain.

As Schelp and Jarrett put it, the time for debating that part of the plan's fundamental nature is over:

We've made our position public (on community listservs, local blogs and area press). They've worked in secret and now they're in panic mode. We have no idea what they want because they been working in the dark.

Now, after ignoring the community for two years, Stanziale has launched a last-minute desperate appeal to delay everything. That's unfortunate. Where has he been all this time?

This is our community. This is our home. We didn't get everything we wanted but we reached a compromise. It's time to move on.

As they note, the Ninth Street Plan -- like the Comprehensive Plan itself -- is advisory, and further Unified Development Ordinance amendments and other legislative actions would be required from the City to enact the goals the Plan creates.

Still, as we've seen with the Comp Plan, those goals are quite meaningful once enacted, and it's not hard to see why. The Ninth Street Plan would essentially preserve the size and character of the district, containing and managing density pressures and, I assume, reducing the commercial redevelopment pressure that Ninth Street's existing commercial structures would face from rising land prices. (All the while, of course, allowing more density elsewhere -- including at Erwin Square and around the Ninth Street North complex.)

With stakes that high, a battle's never far off.  Look for this to be a major source of sparks come Monday night's Council meeting.

Comments

John Schelp

Thanks for your post, Kevin. We were surprised by this last-minute development.

Here's our letter...

Dear Mayor Bell & City Council,

We have just learned about George Stanziale's last-minute request for a deferral.

All we can say is we've worked closely on this effort for two years and are ready to go. We've been on top of this all along. This last-minute obstacle is unfortunate. Projects are stacking up and Stanziale is asking for a deferral. (Interesting coming from the leader of the effort to do away with deferrals.)

Please note that, despite the property owner's decision to stick with Industrial zoning, we've accommodated their projects. We provided strong support for Station 9 apartments -- at one point asking planning staff to move the high-density project along.

We strongly support the proposed Hilton. In fact, at the end of our meeting with the hotel people, we asked them to make it bigger.

We've made our position public (on community listservs, local blogs and area press). They've worked in secret and now they're in panic mode. We have no idea what they want because they've been working in the dark.

Now, after ignoring the community for two years, Stanziale has launched a last-minute desperate appeal to delay everything. That's unfortunate. Where has he been all this time?

This is our community. This is our home. We didn't get everything we wanted but we reached a compromise. It's time to move on.

We can work out further details at the next level (ie. UDO text, etc).

Please vote for the Ninth Street Plan on Monday.

thank you,

John Schelp, president & Kelly Jarrett, vice-president
Old West Durham Neighborhood Association

GreenLantern

If I'm reading between the lines, does the controversy on the developer's end boil down to needing more than a 3-story parking deck on the Wachovia property? I'm assuming he owns, or will own the Wachovia lot. If the transit station is going to locate on the other side of the railroad tracks, where the plan calls for "Core" use along with 90-110' height limits, then why not locate a 4-6 story parking deck on either side of Erwin & W. Pettigrew where it can directly support going from car to train? If needing a taller or bigger parking deck to support the transit stop is the linchpin to a successful enterprise, then must it be located at or near the Wachovia lot? Does the developer think people are too lazy to cross Main street after getting on and off the trains??

Todd

I'm not sure I understand what the issue is. Setting aside the issue of now or later on the plan, what exactly are the areas of disagreement?

durhamfood

any idea what will happen to Sam's?

Kevin Davis

@Todd: The core disagreement is over intensity of use -- height, parking, etc. Landowners want to be able to build as much as they can on their land because bigger developments mean more income (lease, sale, etc.) and thus are more profitable. Neighborhoods have been fighting to make the west side of Ninth Street look like the east side.

A key rationale is that if much taller (and more profitable) buildings went up on the west side of Ninth and changed the nature of the economics on the street, it would be more likely that the owners of the buildings on the east side of Ninth would tear down their structures and build new construction on their half.

Thus, the debate.

@DF: Sam's isn't affected by anything for now. If a transit station is eventually built where TTA #9 was planned, then it might still be impacted someday.

John Schelp

The neighborhood is seeking a balance in the Ninth Street area -- where more intense development would co-exist with the shops and restaurants you see on Ninth Street today.

While the building heights would be lower in the block of Ninth St where The Regulator and Blue Corn are located -- the developer would actually be allowed *higher* building heights (and build more uses) in other areas, like West Main Street.

We are trying to protect what's special about Ninth Street and -- at the same time -- allow more intense development nearby.

We were willing to compromise. The other side is now trying to gut the carefully worked out compromise with planning staff. We've given up enough already.

Below is an interesting message to City Council from Aaron Cain, Durham Planning Department.

best,

John Schelp
Old West Durham Neighborhood Association

****

I have heard the criticism from this one property owner in the past that this plan amounts to a downzoning. However, while it is true that in some areas the height limits would be lowered, particularly along Ninth Street where the height limit would go from 90’ to 45’. However, in some areas, such as along Main Street, the height limit is actually increasing. Furthermore, while this could be characterized as a downzoning as it relates to height, it can be considered an upzoning in terms of use because of the greater range of permitted uses that will occur under the form-based code as recommended in the draft Plan.

Regarding density and intensity, the residential density limits proposed in the Plan are the maximum allowable by current policy. According to the Durham Comprehensive Plan, no area of the city should be more than 60 DU/acre except the downtown core. In fact, we are proposing amending the Comprehensive Plan to allow densities of more than 20 DU/acre in the support areas so that the 52.5 DU/acre can be achieved. The Durham Comprehensive Plan was derived through a long process with a great amount of public input. If the City Council and County Commissioners would like to re-examine the density limits in the Durham Comprehensive Plan to allow greater density in the Compact Neighborhoods, that is certainly a discussion that can be entertained, but I do not believe the Ninth Street Plan is the appropriate forum for that discussion.

Mr. Stanziale infers that he would not be able to develop a property that had 52.5 DU/acre and first floor retail or commercial. That is not the case. Nowhere in the Plan does it state that the 52.5 DU/acre of residential development could not be included as part of a mixed-use, non-residential development. Furthermore, the Plan does not set any maximum non-residential development restrictions, other than height, and actually attempts to encourage mixed-use development through such policies as shared parking allowances and greater flexibility of uses.

Erwin Square is not limited to four stories under the Plan. The height limit in the core portion is 90’ by right, 110’ with a Special Use Permit (the existing tower is 111’). The rest of Erwin Square is limited to 60’ by right, 75’ with a Special Use Permit (Station Nine is 60’). The number of stories or floor area ratio are not regulated within the height limits.

In my meetings with Mr. Duke and this property owner, there was never any mention of not moving forward with the Plan if one property owner objected. Mr. Duke did make comments that if there was wholesale community objection, or lack of support, that the Plan would not move forward. However, many community members have stated their positive support for the Plan, so stopping its progress at the staff level at this point is unwarranted.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Aaron Cain
Durham City-County Planning Department

Todd

It seems to me that the greater density offered by the taller buildings would provide a higher level of foot traffic on Ninth St. This would offer a greater level of support (customers) to both the existing Ninth St businesses, as well as to the transit station.

One of the main arguments kneejerk foes of rail transit have used is that there is not enough density to support it. It is a typical chicken and egg argument - you don't have enough density to support transit, but you can't have the density without transit.

I fear that we are playing into their hands by limiting density too much here so close to one of the key stations.

John Schelp

Again, it's a balance. While some areas (esp the areas near the proposed transit station) will have MORE density than allowed. In exchange, we'd limit the density in the 700-block.

For the record, the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association was the earliest, most vocal neighborhood in the Triangle supporting regional rail. We also supported Station 9 apartments -- one of the most intense residential uses in the Triangle.

We're just trying to protect what's special about Ninth Street at the same time.

And no matter what your perspective is about building heights, we should all be concerned that someone is trying to jump in at the last minute -- trying to undermine a compromise that was carefully worked out by so many in the community.

~John

mcdemc

If "compromise" in the community took place on neighborhood forums, listservs, and blogs, I really find it hard to see how it can be called inclusive. While web-savvy folks are becoming the norm in today's society, it is quite arrogant and closed-minded to think that this is a truly "public" forum for discussion and compromise. Everyone, especially majority property owners, should have a say in this. Because they don't choose to participate in unsanctioned discussions of intended development plans by no means negates or diminishes the value or importance of their input. I applaud Terry Sanford Jr. and George Stanziale for their recognition of established protocols in ensuring a fair and open public process and I hope their input is fairly considered. While I appreciate the value of public discussions on blogs, listservs, and forums, we all must recognize that they are inherently exclusive to those of us who pay attention to them and provide input on them. If you want to make a community decision, bring all the players to the table and make sure they all have a seat.

durhamfood

Um, what has Terry Sanford got to do with the community? Residents form the community, not remote property owners.

Jon Schelp

All the players were invited to the table. There were enough seats for everyone.

Planning staff organized a number of community "charrettes" at Asbury Methodist. Invitations were sent to people in/near the district. Hundreds of property owners, merchants, neighbors and others participated in the discussions.

Everyone and their cousin wanted to protect what was special about Ninth Street.

Not one person at the charrettes said the developers could/should tear down the shops along the east side of Ninth Street.

Since then, planning staff have kept all participants updated with progress.

So after hundreds of people have a say, and all the work that went into the Plan, Stanziale comes out of nowhere to try and gut the compromise at the last minute.

[The point about sharing information with the local press and online is that -- while we were open about our efforts -- Stanziale was circumventing the community by working behind the scenes. Others can decide who was more arrogant here.]

~John


mcdemc

@DF: As to Terry Sanford being a part of the community...

"I'm not going to build a ninety-foot building," Sanford said, noting his long tenure in the community. "This is us simply saying, we want to do something nice there...it's going to be complementary to both sides of the street..."

"Sanford noted his properties had contributed $4 million in property taxes, and had provided parking for $1 a year on Ninth, while spending $2 million on environmental clean-up on the old factory site while preserving old properties."

"Two years; what's another 60 days?" Bell asked.

"I value the fact that to date we've had a responsible developer [Sanford] in this community," Bell said. "Gene, you alluded to the fact that they made an investment in probably something else [Brightleaf Square] that probably no one else would touch," the mayor added in calling for supporting a 60-day deferment."

"That motion passed by a unanimous vote."

@DF/JS: Terry Sanford Jr. is an integral part of this community and has helped to improve the lives of everyone in it. George Stanziale did not circumvent any protocols or established process. He simply consulted with the Planning Department which he has every right to do. There is no requirement to CC the entire community in his communications with the Planning Department. I thought "planning staff have kept all participants updated with progress." If that's the case, shouldn't you have known about Stanziale's ongoing discussions with the Planning Department? That doesn't sound arrogant to me. If you want access to communications to/from government agencies, submit an FOIA request.

durhamfood

Those who are more interested in their bottom line than in the community's interests are not members of the community. In the end, Sanford and co are interested in making money - lots of money. The community is interested in preserving 9th St and the character of the area. Those are different and pretty much opposing.

mcdemc

@DF: What you don't know is that Mr. Sanford has traveled into the future and conversed with the future residents of Durham, who outnumber the currently disenfranchised citizens of Durham. They have made their stance known to him and he is merely building on their behalf, the silent future majority. :)

To be fair though, interest in making money and your bottom line does not preclude you from being a meaningful contributor to the well-being of a community. I would argue that his interest in his bottom-line has enabled him to bring the most cost-effective developments to Durham, and notably without public funds. 9th street is nice. I've seen another one 12 miles up the road in Chapel Hill. They call it Franklin Street, Cosmic Cantina and all. And by the time any real changes do come to 9th Street to support Transit densities, we'll be much closer to having Public Transit which will be a nice 15 minute ride on the Light Rail over to the first 9th Street, AKA Franklin Street. Change is inevitable. Embrace it.

GreenLantern

"Those who are more interested in their bottom line than in the community's interests are not members of the community. In the end, Sanford and co are interested in making money - lots of money. The community is interested in preserving 9th St and the character of the area. Those are different and pretty much opposing"

@durhamfood: That is exactly the kind of arrogant self-interested view of folks who live around Ninth Street that just serves to reinforce the notion that most of the homeowners and neighborhood activists in the area are hypocrits. If you were fortunate enough to buy into the neighborhood at rock-bottom prices 10-20 years ago, encouraging the gentrification of the surrounding area with your improvements and restrictive zoning plans, you stand to make LOTS of money when you decide to sell.

For folks like you and the neighborhood organizations that are always complaing, the "character" of Ninth Street means preserving funky coffee shops, overpriced bookshops, and borderline businesses that can't afford rising property values. Now that you've got your slice of urban paradise, do you want to shut the door on anyone else? Unless a developer comes along with a plan that, while meeting your narrow image of a bygone era, fails to generate profit for those willing to take the risk. The developer has made extensive calculations regarding the need for density, height, and parking, taking into account rising costs and demands that weren't an issue two years ago, and you all want to nitpick over height requirements. A single floor of parking, or a floor of condos may mean the difference between turning a profit, or pricing too many people out of today's market.

You are wrong. It's not just about YOUR neighborhood. Property owners have rights and interests in making money, and the rest of the city has an economic interest in getting these projects moving forward without having to bend to the will of vocal activists who clearly have unspoken financial interests themselves.

John Schelp

Please stop misinforming people by saying the neighborhoods want to "shut the door" on others moving in. That is simply not true.

We strongly supported Station 9 apartments. 60 units/acre. 740 new people in the neighborhood. We asked the planning director at the time to hurry things along (to help the developer meet his obligations). Station 9 is one of the most intense residential uses in the Triangle.

We strongly support the proposed Hilton. At the end of our meeting with the hotel folks, we asked them to build bigger. (Both these projects were on Sanford's land.)

We supported Ninth Street North Phase I. We supported the re-zoning vote for Ninth Street North Phase II (and supported the developer's request to close a City alley and cover a section of South Ellerbe).

We supported Ninth Street Commons (behind the fire station). The developer told us our input was helpful.

We are delighted with the re-designed BP at Broad & Markham. Even though the developer was unwilling to work with us in the beginning, he later told the N&O that we were right in our ideas -- and that customers often tell him how much they like the station.

We support more intense development in the areas around the 700-block of Ninth Street. (More dense and more intense -- representing an up-zoning for the developers.)

We've been quite reasonable all along.

We've given up concessions on this Ninth Street Plan. I don't see the other side giving up anything.

All we're asking is that language be put in place that would protect a block and a half of Ninth Street. That way, everyone walks away happy.

best,
John Schelp


durhamfood

@GreenLantern: actually, there are quite a number of businesses on 9th that are small, local, sustainable and profitable. Big business wants those out, so it can make more money, employ people at minimum wage (or below in some cases) and line its pockets with dollar bills.

By the way, I have no financial interest in this whatsoever. I make a tiny amount of money and like to spend it on nice local things rather than handing it over to Terry Sanford and his cohorts. I don't own property, nor am I interested in owning property. I'm interested in extending the ideas of local and sustainable businesses to a larger community at affordable prices while maintaining the unique quirks of the area.

John Schelp

I agree with Durhamfood. I'd only add that the tactic of saying neighbors are motivated by property values is a red herring. If anything, allowing developers to build more and more large luxury condos, with upscale restaurants and higher rents, would INCREASE the property values of nearby neighbors.

Mr Stanziale just wrote to Council: "I thought there were many good points made by all and our focus now will be to come back to you with a workable solution."

We'll take him at his word. ;)

In the meantime, let's all take a deep breath.

~John

GreenLantern

John: I do NOT think you have been unreasonable. In fact, I applaud your efforts to encourage density along planned transit stops and promote growth along our main commercial thoroughfares close to downtown. Yes, there has been an exceptional amount of compromise from neighborhood organizations up to this point. I don't know where the limits are when it comes to development wants versus comprehensive planning versus neighborhood wishes. I just think that for the most part, developers like this one have run the calculations based on today's realities, taken into consideration neighbors' interests and input, and come up with plans that are economically feasible and that don't lead to long, drawn-out, and costly negotiations. The year 2009 probably presents an entirely new range of variables to developers than what existed in 2006. If Stanizale would present his case and data to the council rather than just make broad statements about what he needs to make it work, everyone can take a logical approach to the next level of compromise.

John Schelp

@ GL: Thanks for your note.

Will

I don't know if Durham Tech offers City Planning 101 but I'm going to find out. It'd help in following 45% of the posts here on BCR :)

Tar Heelz

@Will,

Can you check on that? We might want to offer scholarships to certain Planning Commission members.

Will

@Tar Heelz HAHA, believe or not I did check out of curiosity...no such luck.

John Schelp

One of the outcomes of our successful campaign against the asphalt industry (they were trying to change the local ordinance to allow asphalt plants closer to homes in East Durham) was our request to establish the Durham Neighborhood College.

The Neighborhood College is a ten-week series of classes that provides information on key City and County services [including planning & zoning]. Participants have a chance to meet and interact with City and County staff, and learn things about government that they've always wanted to know but didn't know whom to ask.

Classes are held on Thursday nights (6:00pm-9:00pm) and one Saturday morning. There are two sessions: Fall (September-November) and Spring (February-April). A light dinner is provided prior to the start of each nightly class. Classes are held at various city and county facilities. [source: County website]

More information...

http://www.co.durham.nc.us/departments/bocc/Durham_Neighborhood_College/index.html

Will

@ John. Thanks for posting. I'm actually in that class this fall. So watch out...I'll be spouting off about all number of things after "graduation" in November :)

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