Project 20/10: Ice storm shuts down the Bull City (#13)
Project 20/10: NCCU booms, broadens reach -- and faces conflict with neighbors (#11)

Project 20/10: Brier Creek turns development eyes to eastern Durham County (#12)

Given all the fretting about the run-off impact of Durham development and growth on water quality in Falls Lake -- the key source of drinking water for Raleigh -- it's ironic that the impetus of much of that recent growth may have come from Raleigh's boom in Brier Creek, itself just a few miles from the lake's edge.

Time was that Raleigh was Raleigh, Durham was Durham, and never the twain did meet. But the late 1990s saw the envisioning of massive development near the Wake/Durham border, clustered at the intersection of I-540 and US 70 near the RDU airport.

As the N&O noted earlier this decade, areas like North Raleigh, South Durham and Cary boomed first, thanks to the presence of existing infrastructure, from roads to utility services.

But as those areas began to be built-out, low land costs in the US 70 corridor drew attention as the new outer beltway for Raleigh came to fruition.

Certainly Brier Creek's endless supply of stores and shopping have drawn many Durhamites, with griping over leaked retail sales across the border becoming a common bogeyman in development and zoning matters.

But it's also spurred new development in once-sleepy eastern Durham County, from the Brightleaf at the Park development near US 70 and Miami Blvd., to proposed developments further south.

It's not a story that's played out to full fruition in this decade. But all signs for development point towards eastern Durham County -- a story that promises to shape development directions in the Bull City in the two decades to come.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Brier Creek didn't exist except as lines on the map and construction sites at the beginning of the decade.

A few years in, almost a million sq. ft. of retail space met with thousands of apartments and new homes, filling the corridor between Lumley Rd. and US 70 on Durham's border.

And residents in eastern and northern Durham often found themselves crossing the border, be it for the Walmart and Target stores, movies, or restaurants. DATA ended up extending bus service to the center to serve shoppers and employees alike.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Class A office space grew up, taking advantage of the proximity to the center of the region, the airport, and tens of thousands of RTP jobs.

The City of Raleigh soon found itself spilled into Durham County, as developments pushed over the county line.

The popularity of the location shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, since it offered new residents a hop, skip and jump commute to RTP, without fighting all of the traffic along Glenwood Avenue or I-40.

For eastern Durham County, there had always been that same proximity to RTP -- but none of the convenience of shopping and retail.

If you thought about living near, say, the intersection of US 70 and Miami Blvd., you could schlep down to Southpoint, or up to Northgate. But a grocery store trip would take you to Raleigh's border, or to aging Food Lions along NC 98.

The arrival of Brier Creek changed the equation. And while the initial push of development has occupied Wake County, it's poised to turn in a big way towards the Durham side of the ledger.

Assuming environmental and water concerns can be resolved.

As the N&O's Jim Wise noted in 2008, eastern Durham County is the projected next area for big growth in the Bull City. In many ways, given the build-out of southern Durham and the inability for there to be much more significant growth in northern Durham, the corridor between US 70 and NC 98 sits as a likely future hotspot for development.

Wise noted at the time a projected 17% growth in population for this zone of Durham by 2012.

Residents in eastern Durham County, though, haven't been so eager to see new developments move in. Complaints ranging from the Triassic basin soils and their poor water percolation and resulting run-off concerns to the implication for Falls Lake's water quality.

But development pressures seem unlikely to abate.

The addition of Brightleaf at the Park is in the early stages of bringing more than a thousand households to this part of the county, bringing with it a new elementary school as well as a newly-approved, 400,000 sq. ft. retail center at its front door.

Yet the arrival of the East End Connector promises to greatly increase the connectivity of eastern Durham to downtown, Duke and other major employment centers. So will NC 540's extension down to US 1, which will make the Brier Creek area a short commute to parts of western Wake County.

It's not clear whether economic pressures or environmental lobbying derailed plans for the Egypt/Sauturnes project on Doc Nichols Road -- though the former has put most new development on pause.

Certainly those issues will be in the public's eye, and with the arrival of the Falls Lake rules, the public sector's eyes as well.

Still, the development trends in the Triangle have seen the region growing not simply outward, but inward, towards the airport, RTP and the rest of the geographic heart of the area.

Brier Creek is the enabler of this change. And it's a change that's going to have big reverberations on Durham in the ten years to come.

Which makes this one of the most noteworthy events of the past ten years in the Bull City.



Remember the days when Brier Creek was billed as a walkable community?


With a few exceptions due to ease of land acquisition, like the Sauternes project, most of the new development is occurring inward along the highway corridors rather than isolated pockets towards the lake basin. There are no preferred high school or middle school districts, and with the exception of Spring Forest Elementary (which distict parallels Hwy 70), residential growth is being driven by availability of city water/sewer and convenience to highways and shopping centers.


One of benefits of the East End Connector that eastern Durham residents share with their downtown neighborhoods is that it will serve mainly to get through traffic and north Durham commuters from RTP that don't live in our neighborhoods OUT OF OUR WAY. I don't see it as improving connectivity to and from east Durham, although it would help me get to downtown entertainment a bit quicker.

Extending Alexander Drive to Leesville Road will take care of another huge chunk of traffic that doesn't live around here, and which use the Hwy 70/Miami Blvd bottleneck. That proposal got sidetracked a few years back when money for the EEC was to be diverted to it. Still, it's interesting to note how the two projects are closely linked for improving access and traffic on the east side of Durham.

Given our school districts and demographics in east Durham, I don't think we'll ever see anything as fancy as Brier Creek or Southpoint build up anytime soon. No Best Buy, no new cinema, no Super Target, etc. All we want are a few of the amenities that they have, like a DIY store, better supermarkets, a couple of casual restaurants, and a smattering of shops catering to slightly wealthier clientele. With Brightleaf Commons, and to a lesser extent Walmart, there's not much else we need. Upgrading US70 will help get rid of some eyesores, pawn shops, massage parlors, used car and manufactured home dealers, etc., but it won't happen for another 15-20 years. There will still be significant retail leakage to Brier Creek from east Durham for years to come, but we may be able to stop most of it with an aggressive, pro-growth policy.

The kind of residential development at Brier Creek was driven by the fact that it was Wake County, and new school districts with upper income demographics could more easily be carved out of a corner of the county that close to RTP and major highways. People could live very close to where they worked in RTP, or halfway between Raleigh and Durham where spouses worked in opposite directions, and be comforted that some invisible force field kept them safe from the dangerous elements that might slip in at night from east Durham. As a long time resident of east Durham much closer to the red pinpoints on the crime mapper, I must say our force field is pretty darn good, relatively speaking!

Erik Landfried

The golf course seems somewhat walkable...

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