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.
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.)
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.)