Scientific Properties "Van Alen" plans start to appear
City Council ends vacation, gets crime report and development reviews

OWD to ask City Council to hold off on WF alley closing?

Things have largely been quiet on the purported whole-new Whole Foods front over the past few months, at least within the public eye.

Developers behind the project, which would recombine a number of parcels on the block just north of the current Broad St. WF site to build what's reported to be a newer, larger organic supermarket, have reportedly developed a handful of designs for the soon-to-be-former Duke University office space, but haven't gotten to the point of readiness to share such plans with local neighborhoods.

A situation not likely to sit easily with Old West Durham's John Schelp, who together with Watts-Hillandale's Tom Miller present a two-man front on many real estate development deals impacting local neighborhoods. (If you're going to attend City Council meetings, the smart money is on sitting by the north-facing picture windows -- mostly to watch Miller and Schelp negotiate furiously with developers moments before their agenda items get called, though it's also a good place to catch snippets of the back-of-the-peanut-gallery bits from city staff.)

One little obstacle runs smack through the middle of the Iredell/Perry/Broad site, however -- and it's an obstacle literally running through the site.

Ninth_eastcampus

That obstacle is an alleyway connecting Iredell and Broad. As long as that public right of way sits there, you can't combine the parcels necessary enough to build a suitable new development like, hypothetically, a new grocery store.

All of which makes this a control point over the entitlement process. And did I mention that Schelp is a good negotiator?

In this vein appears an email request from the OWDNA, signed by Schelp, asking neighborhood residents to write into City Council and request a delay in the consideration of an item on Council's Monday night agenda that would allow a street closing of the alley:

Giving away this alleyway to facilitate an unknown private development does not serve a public purpose. Indeed, it cannot. Before we give away the land, we need to see the details of the project and make sure that it in fact is a development worthy of the public gift. Further, even if we are satisfied as a community that the development is worthy of the gift, we must insist that the public benefit in its promise is confirmed in committed elements in a development plan.

To close the alley without knowing the details -- can't possibly serve the public purpose. Once we know the details of the project, officials can determine whether or not the street closing serves a public purpose and you can make an informed decision....

We may, or may not, eventually support the street closing. But we can't tell until we see the plans for the new project.

The developers tell us they have seven plans on the table (which they can't share yet) -- and they aren't close to deciding anything. So there's no hurry here.

We therefore ask City Council to wait on Duke's request to close the alley until the plans are set. We need more transparency before supporting a street closing that has a clear private purpose -- but no clear public purpose.

Not a bad strategy from a negotiating perspective. Why support any steps forward for the developer side if you're waiting to hear more about what the entire project will look like in the first place?

Elsewhere in the email, Schelp pulls out an intriguing argument for saving the alleyway, as well as the alley next to the Regulator bookshop: the desire expressed by some in the Ninth Street planning charrettes to make these alleys effective pedestrian connections between Duke's East Campus and Ninth Street.

Personally, I've always considered Perry Street to be that connector -- especially since there's a traffic signal and crosswalk there, and since that road connects Ninth Street with the bike/ped path that bisects the western half of East Campus. (Although you could punch through the wall in Duke's East Campus at the alley to make a pedestrian connection, that really doesn't connect with much on the campus' northwest side, which contains open fields and a few administrative buildings, compared to the residence hall spine running along the Perry axis.)

Ninth_eastcampus2

East Campus-to-Ninth aside, the OWDNA also raises an important point about the alleyway connecting Ninth to Iredell, and the importance to the community of knowing that the project will present an appropriate pedestrian appearance towards Ninth Street, especially in light of the current unknown design of the redevelopment.

It will be interesting indeed to see what if any impact the late-hour call to action has on the decision of Council tonight. More here Tuesday on the board's next steps.

(Conflict of interest disclaimer: Although I'm an employee of Duke University, my work has no relation to this project or item, and all information in this post is derived from the public record and sources outside Duke.)

Comments

John Schelp

Thanks for today's entry, Kevin.

Folks, here is our letter to Council...


Dear Mayor Bell and members of Council:

The Old West Durham Neighborhood Association is asking you to wait on the the proposed closing of Alley #10 in our neighborhood -- until more details are available.

The law states that closing a public street or alley must serve a "public purpose." In its report, the staff states that the purpose of closing the alley is to "facilitate" development. The staff report does not recite what development is to be facilitated or why the development to be facilitated so advances the public welfare that it is necessary to give away public land and a public right of way.

Giving away this alleyway to facilitate an unknown private development does not serve a public purpose. Indeed, it cannot. Before we give away the land, we need to see the details of the project and make sure that it in fact is a development worthy of the public gift. Further, even if we are satisfied as a community that the development is worthy of the gift, we must insist that the public benefit in its promise is confirmed in committed elements in a development plan.

To close the alley without knowing the details -- can't possibly serve the public purpose. Once we know the details of the project, officials can determine whether or not the street closing serves a public purpose and you can make an informed decision.

This entire area is currently the subject of an ongoing planning initiative which at every stage enjoyed healthy public participation. The future of the alley in question has been a part of the public debate and the subject of valid suggestions worthy of serious consideration. For example, the community made it clear (at the Ninth Street charrette, with planning staff, and later with the developers) that we want to see pedestrian access from the Regulator/Alley #9 to the new project.

After months of study, a group from the NC State School of Design recommended a pedestrian facility connecting the heart of Ninth Street and East Campus -- via Alley #9 and Alley #10 alongside the Regulator. This sort of pedestrian-only access from the center of Duke's East Campus to the center of Ninth Street makes sense and is an idea many in the community support. We should not, therefore, isolate a decision about the alley from the larger debate which is the Ninth Street Area planning process.

We do not want to see delivery trucks and dumpsters blocking pedestrian connectivity. Without knowing the plans, we don't know if this area will be an attractive pedestrian element connecting Ninth and the new project (something that serves a public purpose) -- or a loading dock (something that may serve a private venture, but not a public purpose such as pedestrian connectivity) .

We may, or may not, eventually support the street closing. But we can't tell until we see the plans for the new project.

The developers tell us they have seven plans on the table (which they can't share yet) -- and they aren't close to deciding anything. So there's no hurry here.

We therefore ask City Council to wait on Duke's request to close the alley until the plans are set. We need more transparency before supporting a street closing that has a clear private purpose -- but no clear public purpose.

with appreciation,

John Schelp, president
Old West Durham Neighborhood Association

****

John Schelp

Good things are happening at Duke. They've hired some new people who are great, like Phail Wynn. This is an example of one silo at Duke not telling a Duke-Durham partnership neighborhood that they were trying to close a public alleyway in Old West Durham.

We asked Duke to pull the item (for now). For the record, we received quick replies from both Phail and Sam. They're checking into the situation and I can post any updates here.

Keep in mind that we're most concerned about pedestrian connectivity to/from the new project. We don't want to look down from the Regulator and see delivery trucks and dumpsters blocking pedestrian access between Ninth Street and the new project.

Here's are some of the messages of support sent to Council...


I would like to register my opposition to closing, at this time, Alley #10. Without a plan attached to this closing, it is hard to see how it can pass the "public purpose" test. I understand the closing is to facilitate a new development on the surrounding parcels of land, currently owned by Duke University. This new development could be in the public interest if it includes things such as pedestrian connections to Ninth Street, but if it is to be a self-contained development that walls itself off from its surroundings it will serve a private purpose, but I can't see how it will serve much of a public purpose at all.

I therefore ask the Council to wait until this request comes with a development proposal attached. We need more transparency before supporting a Street Closing that has a clear private purpose -- but no clear public purpose.

Thank you for your consideration,

Tom Campbell
Co-Owner
The Regulator Bookshop

****

Dear Mayor Bell and members of Council:

I have recently learned that there is a proposal to close Alley #10 in Old West Durham which runs between Iredell and Broad streets. I am writing to urge you to please wait on voting on this proposal until more details on the land's usage is known.

As the alley is currently public land, the closing of this alley should serve a public purpose such as a pedestrian throughway.

In September of 2006, I participated in a Ninth street area design charette with city planners. I attended follow-up sessions with the planners as well. During these sessions, it became very clear that the public has a desire for convenient and attractive pedestrian access around the commercial district of our neighborhood. People also expressed the need for easy pedestrian access between Duke's East Campus and Ninth Street.

If the plans call for an attractive pedestrian area connecting the new Whole Foods market and Duke's East Campus to Ninth Street, then I am willing to fully support it. However, if the plan is to give this public land to a private company who plans to use it for loading docks, delivery trucks, dumpters and the like then I hope the council will vote in favor of Durham citizens' desires and NOT let this happen.

The developers say that they are considering seven plans at this time which they are not ready to share. Please insist on a solid plan that serves the public before allowing this alley to close.

Thank you,
K

****

Dear Mayor Bell and City Council:

I am writing to ask you to delay a decision on closing Alley #10 off 9th Street (I understand it is item #53 on the upcoming agenda). It is not in the public interest for you to make a decision about closing a public-access alley to "facilitate development," without any idea what the proposed development is to be. The success of Durham's commercial areas, such as 9th Street, depends up pedestrian access, and closing this alley will endanger pedestrian access to & from 9th Street and East Campus. Taking this risk without a clear sense of how the public will benefit is not in the public interest.

Sincerely,

K

****

Dear Council:

I am concerned about the proposal to close Alley #10 near the Regulator Bookstore, and ask that you delay action on this proposal until more information is made available to the community. As a resident of west Durham who frequents 9th St. and surrounding businesses with my family, I would like to know the purpose of the closure and the plans for any associated development before the Council takes action. Without this information, the community cannot take an informed position and convey that position to our elected representatives.

Thank you for yours service to the community and for your consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

M

****

Dear Mayor Bell and members of the Council:

I read with interest John Schelp's message to you regarding the closing of Alley #10 and found the issue quite disturbing. The residents of Old West Durham work very hard to keep an eye on our neighborhood and any proposed development. We care about what happens here and we are quite in favor of positive development plans. That said, the action to close Alley #10 seems to come without notice or detailed description of intent. Without this information, we can make no judgement about whether or not this would be a positive or negative action.

Please wait on closing this alley until we can be better informed of the purpose of the action. I am certain that if it is in fact, in the best interest of 9th St and our neigbhorhood, we will be in favor of it, however, we need more details.

Best Regards,
K

****

GreenLantern

Are Duke students too lazy to use Perry Street to get to the Regulator? Why is this alleyway a problem? Is it much ado about nothing, or do I not see the "public" alley(s)on the satellite map in the posting? Is John absolutely certain of the public ownership of the alleyways, or does he assume since they've been there forever, the public has a legal right to its use?

Again, maybe I'm not looking at the right alley in the picture. If so, please delineate where they are in the photo.

Seth Vidal

John and Tom,
Thanks for being on top of this and making sure that the plans are disclosed in advance of the city granting this permission.

Seth Vidal

John Schelp

We're just asking for more information. How will the new project connect to Ninth Street? Will you see a big loading dock as you look down from the Regulator -- or a way to walk over to the new project.

How will the new project connect to Perry? To Broad? To Iredell?

It's perfectly appropriate for neighbors to ask for details about a new development. (The information about public street/alley closing comes from a lawyer in the Attorney General's office in Raleigh.)

Keep in mind, our neighborhood association strongly supported Station 9 apartments, a high-density residential development of 740 people on less than five acres. At the end of our recent meeting with the Hilton folks, we asked them if they could build a bigger hotel.

So, we're pretty supportive of good infill development. We just have some unanswered questions.

~John

KeepDurhamDifferent!

Can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with John Schelp (though for slightly different reasons). Less cars, more peds...smaller scale development preferred over blockbusting behemoths. Go OWD!

Joshua Allen

Here here! Way to go, John & OWDNA.

CG

I realize that for all intents and purposes, Duke is the developer. But who is actually working the deal?

John Schelp

Neighbors, this just in...

Duke has agreed to our request to pull Alley #10 from tonight's City Council agenda. Their letter to formally withdraw was just submitted to the Planning Director and City Clerk.

Good things are happening at Duke. They've hired some wonderful new people like Phail Wynn, VP for Durham & regional affairs. There's a new feeling over there.

This Alley #10 episode is an example of one silo at Duke not telling a Duke-Durham partnership neighborhood that they were trying to close a public alleyway in Old West Durham.

When we asked Duke to pull the item yesterday, we received quick replies from both Phail and Sam Miglarese. And now, they've followed through.

Folks, thank YOU for all your letters (including some BCR readers). This is an awesome community!

There's a breath of fresh air at Duke. Things are looking up.

have a great day,
John

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