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Developer, neighborhoods reach agreement in principle on Ninth Street North

Nsn_site We've talked here quite a bit about the plans for Ninth Street North, first reported by the Triangle Business Journal in late summer; we looked at the plans here in October.

A rezoning proposal for the project made it in front of the Durham Planning Commission back in December, but was quickly postponed by agreement of the developer, Glenn Dickson, and representatives of Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale, which had been deep in negotiations over what project characteristics the development-savvy neighborhoods would support.

OWDNA's John Schelp on Sunday night announced on neighborhood listservs that the developer and neighborhood associations had finally agreed in principle on acceptable development terms; the revised rezoning proposal will come before the Planning Commission at their meeting tomorrow. According to the update from W-H's Tom Miller:

The developer, the neighborhood representatives, and the Ninth Street merchants have all agreed to the current version of the development plan being presented to the Planning Commission for its meeting in January.... Despite our agreement, the neighborhood representatives continue to be concerned about the size of the project, even though it is a smaller project than the developer might have asked for under the existing regulatory environment and even under the guidelines of the Ninth Street Plan.  In terms of use, the focus on mixed use development with a focus on residential units rather than commercial intensification insures that the commercial center of the Ninth Street area is to the south, between Markham and Main and at Erwin Square.  It also interposes a workable transition of residential and non-residential uses between the existing, traditional neighborhoods to the north and the commercial center of the area.

Central to the debate between developer and neighborhoods/local merchants was the insertion of a large (340,000+ sq. ft., including the existing first phase of NSN) mixed-use development between small scale neighborhoods consisting of old mill village housing and other single-family residences and the longstanding commercial zone of Ninth St. south of the development site, which sits largely on the block between Ninth, Iredell and Green Sts.

Most intriguing among the agreements: an agreement between the neighborhoods and a more reticent developer that the 209,000 sq. ft. of residential units intended for Ninth Street North would be organized in a legally more-complex condominium fashion, paving the way for eventual sale even if some or all of the residential units are initially rented -- though Miller notes the agreement hasn't passed muster of city staff quite yet:

Residential units organized as condos from the outset have a greater chance of contributing to home ownership in the future than do residential units organized only as apartments. If the Ninth Street Compact Tier is to survive and thrive as a part of our larger west Durham community, there must be a significant number of residents who own their own homes in the intensified development the new rules encourage. We asked for this and the developer, with some trepidation, agreed to it.  The city staff has indicated that they are not thrilled about such a requirement and we are waiting for their final statement about it.

Also central to the agreement: building heights, which under current zoning could in theory reach 145' tall; the developer has agreed to a scale-down of heights as the structure moves from the more-commercial Elmo's side to the largely residential Green St.

On the southern end of the site, heights could reach 75' with a 9' stepback making the penthouse level invisible from the street, and with an overall average height of 65'. Heights step down to a low of 50' nearest Green St., with building heights limited to four story for all-residential or three story for office/commercial space. A 50' buffer strip between Green St. and the project would contain no structures, save for possible outside tables for dining.

Most of the new retail space created by the project would sit on the main block between Ninth and Iredell (19,700 retail sq. ft.) or in a new multi-story structure to eventually be built where Vin Rouge and Blu sit today (18,000 sq. ft. retail, with 64,650 sq. ft. of office space above.)  For comparison's sake, the existing first phase of Ninth Street North contains 12,500 sq. ft. of retail and an equal amount of office space.

In other requirements, the developer agreed to completely hide the visibility of the structured parking deck at the center of the Iredell/Green/Ninth block via the building structures, save for the entrances -- it initially would have been visible from both Iredell and Green -- and to allow only one drive-in window, for a possible bank, to be located in the deck structure itself.

Stucco can make up no more than 20% and glass no more than 25% of the structure, which must be articulated so as to avoid presenting "a long, unbroken plane to the street."

Given the neighborhoods' agreement with Dickson, and the dense project's location in the midst of one of Durham's compact neighborhood tiers designed to support intensive, transit-oriented development, we'd expect few quibbles when this project makes it before the Planning Commission or the City Council in the weeks to come.


Toby Berla

On balance, I think this is a good agreement. The most egregious aspects of the proposed development have been toned down, while still allowing the developer to build something that will be commercially feasible. Given the current economic atmosphere at the national and regional level, I feel fortunate to live in a place where someone is still willing to make this kind of investment.

Thanks to OWDNA and WHHNA for taking point in the negotiation.

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