Sewer argument wins approval for S. Durham project

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 07:39 PM

On a night when the City Council split on whether to OK one south Durham project with more homes than local policy would allow, members were united in approving a second.

The council unanimously approved annexation, utilities, a policy change and zoning for the proposed 53-home Montclair development off Barbee Chapel and Farrington Mill roads.

The decision came even though the developers’ agent, Jarrod Edens, conceded that the project will include 15 more homes than Durham’s land-use policy had called for in the area.

Edens said the extra units were needed so Montclair’s would-be developer could afford to install the sewage pump station any development on the site will need because it doesn’t drain well enough to accommodate septic tanks. 

Under previous policy, “in theory, we could do 19 homes on well and septic” without city utilities, Edens said. “In reality, there are zero perc sites on the property. Whether we develop five units, 50 units or a thousand units, we’d have to build a pump station.”

Council members – fresh from voting 4-3 to approve a project ticketed for land further east that also broke their government’s density guidelines – agreed that the situation merited an exception.

“The project is reasonable at single-family density,” Councilwoman Diane Catotti told Edens, a former member of the Durham Planning Commission. “You made a compelling argument.”

Montclair and the project that divided the council, Southpoint Trails, each had sparked warnings from the City/County Planning Department about their potential to further erode policy that called for a tapering-off of density in south Durham from Renaissance Parkway to Durham’s border with Chatham County.

Southpoint Trails’ developer won permission to build 5.5 units an acre – 149 townhouses in all – on land off N.C. 751 that the taper policy said was suitable for now more than four units an acre.

Edens’s client, Weekley Homes LLC, got permission to build 2.87 dwellings an acre on land that city policy until Monday had labeled suitable for no more than two an acre.

Catotti joined Councilmen Steve Schewel and Don Moffitt in voting against Southpoint Trails. She cautioned against seeing Montclair as a precedent.

“I would not welcome additional changes in density in” the area, she said.

But developers in both cases argued that there’s an implicit contradiction between the city’s demands for infrastructure and the density caps suggested by Durham’s 2005 countywide “comprehensive plan.”

The infrastructure for Southpoint Trail was additional lanes on N.C. 751.

Ken Spaulding, lawyer for Southpoint Trails’ developer, said the additions to 751 will cost his client about $300,000. Edens said Weekley Homes had tailored its density request to the cost of the sewage improvements.

Councilman Eugene Brown, a real estate agent who voted for both projects, made it clear in supporting Southpoint Trails that he also saw a discrepancy in the city’s demands.

It would be “exceedingly challenging” to develop the Southpoint Trails site to a four-units-an-acre cap and “still make any profit,” Brown said. “And obviously a developer is not going to do it unless there’s a profit.”