Decision nears on N.C. 54 project

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 03:56 PM

Another south Durham development quarrel is percolating at the corner of N.C. 54 and Barbee Road, on a site that now hosts a gas station that serves residents of the Parkwood area.

Developers have proposed replacing the existing four-pump Shell station with a 10-pump station. They’d also make use of vacant land next door to add a self-storage business and up to 365 apartments.

Their plan requires both a rezoning and a change to Durham policy that deems the 49.8-acre site – and most of the other corner properties at N.C. 54 and Barbee Road – suitable for office development

City Council members were supposed to decide the matter early in December, but to give developers and neighbors more time to work out their differences, they opted to postpone a vote until Feb. 4.

The differences mostly involve traffic, as residents of Hunters Wood and a couple of neighborhoods near the Meadows at Southpoint site fear motorists leaving the gas station and the apartments will cause more congestion, particularly on Barbee Road.

Opposition to the project is organized enough that the neighbors successfully filed a formal protest against the rezoning, meaning that in a council showdown the developers would likely need to muster six votes instead of four for it to pass.

The protest itself creates a dilemma for some council members, most notably Mayor Bill Bell, who lives in Hunters Wood.

Many of Bell’s neighbors – and both of his next-door neighbors – signed the petition. The mayor, however, did not.

The project’s developers, Jim Anderson and Warren Mitchell, sought the delay in hopes of bargaining with neighbors “with the goal of gaining [their] collective support for” a modified plan, they said in a late-November letter.

The opponents, led by Hunters Wood resident and former Durham Planning Commission Chairman George Brine, have signaled a degree of flexibility, though they’re far from sold on the idea of a major expansion of the gas station.

“We recognize the property in question will ultimately be developed,” Brine said in a September letter to the Planning Commission that said the plans “in their present forms” were unacceptable.

The Planning Commission wound up endorsing the proposal, in votes of 10-1 on whether to change policy and 8-3 on the actual rezoning.

The strongest Planning Commission criticism of the plan came from city delegate Rebecca Winders, who said the project would chew up enough of the capacity of the N.C. 54/Barbee Road intersection to “make future development of underutilized land on the other side of [54] extremely problematic.”

 Opposition to the project hasn’t spread south of Hunters Wood to Parkwood or the newer subdivisions off Grandale Drive, even though Barbee Road is a key connector for any homes that use Grandale for access.

The president of the Parkwood Association, Michael Brooks, is a supporter of the project who on his own penned a letter that said the plan appears to “incorporate sensible traffic management” and on the whole is “quite a bit better than we could have expected.”

Brooks, in an interview, said the letter represented his own views, not those of the association, which hasn’t taken a position on the Meadows at Southpoint one way or another.

His mention of traffic management alluded to the developers’ written promises to add turn lanes and other improvements to the N.C. 54/Barbee intersection.