Officials asked to raise 15-501 development density

May. 01, 2013 @ 09:23 PM

A local engineer has asked city/county planners to consider an ordinance change that would allow significantly denser construction on at least two properties along the U.S. 15-501 corridor.

The proposal from Ron Horvath would change the way planners account, in density calculations, for the presence of road rights-of-way on a property.

The change would target properties in suburban Durham that are on limited- or controlled-access highways and that have direct access to an intersection, service road or interchange.

Horvath acknowledged Wednesday that the intended beneficiaries are two sites, one on the boulevard in the Patterson Place development, the other just off the bypass that was once home to a Pepsi bottling warehouse.

Planners estimate that the change to the 15.4-acre Patterson Place parcel could allow a developer to build up to 337 dwellings on the site, versus the 269 the current rules would allow.

The Pepsi site – located on a 15-501 frontage road called the Western Bypass, next to The Herald-Sun’s building – would go from a theoretical limit of 217 dwellings to a maximum of 442.

The request is under review. Planners and Horvath on Wednesday briefed the elected officials who serve on the Joint City/County Planning Committee.

Horvath argued that the sort of “density bonuses” he’s suggested fit local policy that encourages construction along prospective transit corridors. A planned rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill would parallel the U.S. 15-501 Bypass before snaking through the South Square and Patterson Place areas.

As work on the line remains pending, “we’re trying not to spread this high density across the entire county, but [put it in] major locations, with controlled access where traffic can get out and it’s not bursting through existing neighborhoods,” he said.

Committee members, getting an early look at the request before the full review process plays out, were wary but didn’t say anything to suggest they thought the idea was out-of-bounds.

They mostly wondered about unintended effects, and about how to encourage developers to include low- and moderately priced units in projects that could benefit from the change.

They and Horvath signaled interest in an alternative suggestion from Planning Director Steve Medlin, who said it’s possible to create special zoning for land along the transit corridor that would give officials more control over the density issue.

Medlin said new zoning rules would take longer to write and review than the rules change Horvath has proposed. The engineer voiced no objection to considering both possibilities.

“We can work both. There’s not a gun to my head saying I have to be done by a certain date,” Horvath said, hinting that his clients aren’t in a hurry to develop the two properties.

Durham Planning Commission member Barbara Beechwood said she’d prefer seeing elected officials confine any incentive for added density to the area around a prospective transit stop – a point that to her argued for being more flexible about the Patterson Place site than the Pepsi site.

Early planning calls for construction of a station to serve Patterson Place. The line would merely pass by the Pepsi property.

Transit planners have suggested the Pepsi site perhaps could accommodate a maintenance shop for the Durham-to-Chapel Hill line. But the owners of a nearby school, synagogue and Jewish community center have objected to that idea.