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West Point Park debate takes quarrelous turn at INC

One might have expected a food fight during the pro and con debate over the prepared foods tax during last night's Inter-Neighborhood Council debate.

In reality, though, the most contentious part of the meeting preceded it, with representatives from various neighborhoods and the stakeholder groups working to preserve the Black Meadow Ridge property adjacent to West Point Park on the Eno differing on how to tackle the question of preservation.

While no one present disagreed on the need to protect the land from intensive development, there were significant differences of opinion on just how to do so.

The debate began with the INC's consideration of a motion crafted by the organization that stated the INC's support for the City taking "all necessary steps to purchase, or cause to be purchased, the Black Meadow Ridge Tract," while stating explicitly that the state takeover option we've discussed at length here should be considered if it is the only means by which to preserve the tract.

Uber-zoning expert and Watts-Hillandale representative Tom Miller noted during the discussion that the landowner and putative developer of the BMR tract had been in touch with him and had presented a letter that they wished INC to sign and support.

The letter recognized that negotiations were underway for the preservation of the BMR tract and called for a postponement of any City rezoning action on the tract until February 1 to give all sides a chance to find a way forward for the acquisition and preservation of the land.

The INC's original resolution drew support from representatives present, with consideration towards some minor text changes to make it clear that INC was supporting the effort to preserve the park and not any of the advocating community organizations per se.

The debate then took a more divided turn, however, when Miller presented substitute text for the INC's amendment that the longtime activist noted to represent the position of his association.

Miller called for the resolution to also advocate for a specific zoning change on the parcel, so as to require a development plan and limited density of not more than 4.5 units/acre should development happen on the site.

He cautioned against "putting all our eggs in the purchase basket," noting that if a deal with the city and/or state to buy BMR failed, the community needed a backup plan to ensure that the site was not overdeveloped.

Miller's proposed amendment also explicitly called for ensuring that "the city shall retain management and control of the park" through a lease of management arrangement in the event that the state purchased the site.

"The city is responsive to the citizens of Durham. The state will not be," cautioned Miller. "We just need to have an important city park in city hands," he added, warning about the intractability of the "bureaucracy of the state park system."

Both amendments drew fire from a number of other representatives, including Eno River Association executive director and Planning Commission member Wendy Jacobs and Friends of West Point Park point person Josie McNeil.

Jacobs asked why 4.5 units/acre was acceptable in Miller's mind when it's the same density as what's under discussion already; for her part, Fairfield activist Melissa Rooney decried any new development that preserved less than a third of an acre per home, and asked why the INC wouldn't advocate for a conservation subdivision requirement.

Miller replied that neither a PDR nor conservation subdivision zoning could be accomplished without the consent of the landowner -- an unlikely thing to happen -- while the RS-10 with development plan proposed in the Watts-Hillandale amendment could be imposed by local government, preserving leverage over the development.

McNeil, a key player in the battle over the West Point Park, expressed that she was "surprised" to hear this proposal having been promulgated on behalf of the neighborhood, stating that her understanding from conversation with executive members of the WHHNA led her to believe the topic hadn't yet been fully vetted by the association.

"You seem to be intent [on city control]," Owen said. "I see the zoning issue as separate, and I think you are now complicating this issue, whereas last month you thought I was complicating things by wanting to hand over the park if that's how the City Manager deems it might go.”

Miller took exception to the point, stating that board members discussed this during their September and October sessions, and stating that "we weren’t going to change our position, which is that if the city surrenders ownership of the West Point Park, we want the city to retain [control], and that we also want to deal with the possibility that the ridge tract won’t be acquired.”

After a brief parliamentary shuffle, a call for a vote by division of neighborhoods was made. The original INC resolution passed with the support of all neighborhoods present save for Watts-Hillandale; in a follow-on vote,


Robin Jacobs

A point of clarification: Wendy Jacobs is a member of the Planning Commission. Robin Jacobs is the executive director of the Eno River Association. Robin Jacobs attended the INC meeting in September, but did not attend last night's meeting (October 28).


Neither the city/county nor the state have the money to buy up this tract right now. The landowner deserves to get a fair price for HER land, and if she doesn't or is prohibited from developing the tract by all these local no-growth busybodies, she should file a lawsuit against the city. Instead of asking government to buy up more land, how about asking the ENO River Association to pitch in and absorb the tract? They always seem to have the funds available to connect adjacent parcels to the city park.

No-Growth Busybody

Hey, Green. What developer or law firm do you work for?


Lantern: Sure, the landowner deserves a fair price. But why should she benefit from an inappropriately dense use zone? The whole point of zoning is that local government can control what happens where. That's why I can't just build a convenience store next to your house. So Ms. Ray deserves fair market value (which is dropping like a stone right now thanks to the tanking economy) for a development just like the projects to the south. That would be, uh, RS-10.

No-Growth Busybody

@ Bulloney: Correct.

And the longer this plays out, the lower the "market value" will go.


Wouldn't 4.5 units per acre be appropriate for multi-level condos? Would everyone be supportive if these condos overlooked a wooded conservation easement instead of a grassy lawn, with no more footprint than a few driveways entering into a first floor garage? Imagine looking out over the ridge into a woodland ravine from your patio 3-4 stories up. The point is, no one has specified what they want to build, only the zoning density. Don't assume they want to build something like a bunch of 1200 sq ft single-family homes with a yard and five feet separating the units. Everytime I read this blog, people are complaining about low density development. Why don't we wait until we see some plans before jumping all over.

I'm suspicious that the opposition to developing this tract has more to do with Eno park boosters finding a new way to extract funds from government to buy up land their own organizations ought to be doing. It has nothing to do with density.

Ellen Ciompi

The former editor in me has to say this....."quarrelous"? Not really a word. "Quarrellous" (note two "l"s) is listed in my dictionary as obsolete, with the preferred choice for an adjective being "quarrelsome".

Even though I may cavil over vocabulary, the sense was conveyed that the discussion was contentious!

Lesley McCormack

This issue is continuing to move forward. I am worried that there is something fishy going on with the Friends of West Point's agenda. Why else would they have put everything into this one proposal. No talk of finding other means to fund this purchase and the fact that they don't want the land to be zoned at the same as the other neighborhoods around West Point Park, neighborhoods they live in, seems odd. The lower the zoning the lower the price. Are they on the developers side or conservation? Interesting read here,

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