Council approves Kentington Heights project
A 6-0 City Council vote on Monday gave a South Carolina developer and the Rick Hendrick chain of car dealerships permission to develop a new auto park on what is now the Kentington Heights subdivision.
The decision came 11 years after the council signaled it would welcome commercial development to replace a neighborhood near The Streets of Southpoint mall that’s been plagued by septic-system issues.
Lewis Cheek, a former councilman and the lawyer for the project, said the Hendrick proposal “may be the only opportunity” for the present landowners to sell to a commercial developer.
His comment alluded to the long-running, behind-the-scenes battle to secure options on a sufficient number of the lots in the neighborhood to assemble a viable project site.
South Carolina-based WRS Inc. had come close once before, applying in 2010 for a rezoning that would have accommodated the construction of a Wal-Mart on the site.
But that project fell through after the Wal-Mart chain established a new store in Durham on the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway near Hope Valley Farms. The Hendrick proposal emerged this year as a replacement.
There had been opposition to the Hendrick project early on from some Kentington Heights landowners who felt they would have been left out.
But it evaporated as city officials reviewed the plan, and on Monday WRS executive Stacy Woodhouse told the council his company has optioned “all properties” in the neighborhood.
Cheek confirmed after the meeting that WRS is buying Kentington Heights lock, stock and barrel.
The only opposition to the project voiced during Monday’s council meeting came from Helen Ellison, a Massey Chapel Road landowner who said she’s worried about being asked to sell part of her land to accommodate road improvements.
But city Transportation Department engineer Bill Judge said the turn lanes slated to be added to the intersection of Fayetteville Road and Massey Chapel Road are likely coming as part of the controversial 751 South project.
The 751 project has been on hold because of a utility dispute with the city. State legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory intervened in that quarrel this summer, settling it in favor of 751 South’s developers.
The 751 project is responsible for a host of road improvements that cover much of south Durham.
Council members in the weeks and days leading up to Monday’s hearing also heard opposition from Durham landscape architect George Stanziale.
Stanziale argued that Hendrick project would be better sited in the Southpoint Auto Park, a separate development north of Interstate 40 that’s now home to Lexus and Honda dealerships.
He has worked on most of the projects in the Southpoint area, including the existing auto park. Rather than speaking during Monday’s hearing, he wrote council members urging them to preserve Kentington Heights for a future mixed-use development.
“I realize there is tax base in [car] dealerships, but put them where they belong,” Stanziale said. “We have an auto park. Let’s use it.”
Cheek, however, said Hendrick officials hadn’t “seen another location large enough that has the characteristics they are seeking.”
Council members showed little inclination Monday to debate the proposal. One councilwoman, Cora Cole-McFadden, said the change in use of the neighborhood “is a matter of environmental justice,” given the number of blacks who own property there.