Council launches bidding for parking lot

Apr. 15, 2013 @ 10:10 PM

A 5-0 City Council vote on Monday gave administrators permission to begin a process that could end with the city selling to the Self-Help credit union a 12- or 14-space parking lot on West Chapel Hill Street.
The decision cleared the way for City Manager Tom Bonfield and the General Services Department to begin an “upset bidding” process to see whether someone else is willing to top Self-Help’s $37,000 offer for the property.
Credit union leaders want to incorporate the lot into the planned Kent Corner project, a 48,000-square-foot development that could among other things become the home of a cooperative grocery store, the Durham Central Market.
The sale drew objections Monday from neighboring property owner David Anthony and a couple other people who question whether Kent Corner would give Self-Help too big a share of redevelopment opportunities in the West Chapel Hill Street corridor.
Anthony said he’ll compete with Self-Help in the bidding process, with an eye toward combining the lot with the land he already owns.
“I will bid with the intent of building more houses on my lot, or developing commercial myself,” he said, asking council members to withhold from Bonfield the authority to decide the winner of the bidding process.
But other homeowners and business owners from the area told council members they want the city to work with Self-Help on the project.
The corridor up to now has “been a prime example of urban failure in a city that’s coming to life,” Burch Avenue homeowner Barry Yeoman said. “This proposal by Self-Help is the first time we’ve seen a possibility of bringing West Chapel Hill Street to life.”
“This is the first real plan that has any traction to it and has shown anything big enough to make a significant difference” to the area, added Evan Juhlin, who owns a building a few yards east of the city lot that adjoins Anthony’s property. “You should let it move forward.”
The presidents of the Morehead Hill and Burch Avenue neighborhood associations, Bruce Mitchell and Isaac Price, also spoke up in favor of the Self-Help proposal.
Price said the credit union’s willingness to work with neighbors is “a very welcome breath of fresh air” and added that his group “has full confidence in what Self-Help is trying to accomplish.”
Contra Anthony’s request, council members in theory allowed Bonfield to sign off on the sale without further consultation.
But the manager said administrators won’t close on the property until and unless Self-Help’s project is approved during an upcoming land-use review.
Councilman Don Moffitt recused himself from the vote on the parking lot, as he’s the project manager of the Durham Central Market. Councilman Howard Clement was absent from Monday’s meeting.
In other action, the council voted 6-0 to approve zoning that could allow the Triangle Curling Club to build a 16,000-square-foot ice rink off So Hi Drive near RTP.
Curling is a Winter Olympics sport best described as shuffleboard on ice. Participants slide a large rock toward a target and use brooms to control its path over the ice.
The designer who’s working with the club, Dan Jewell, told council members the group for years has had to compete with hockey and figure-skating organizations for time at the area’s ice rinks and now wants a facility to call its own.
If it’s successful, the project will become the only dedicated curling rink in the U.S. south of Maryland, Jewell said.
The application drew no opposition and council members quickly approved it.
“This is not only the coolest request we’ve had, it’s also the coldest request we’ve had,” Councilman Steve Schewel quipped.