Historic-district expansion confounds advisory board

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 08:02 PM

A 15-block expansion of the Cleveland-Holloway historic district failed last week to gain an endorsement from the Durham Planning Commission, following a deadlock on what properties to include in it.

The 6-6 advisory vote appeared to turn on one key parcel, a roughly 2-acre patch of land between North Roxboro, Queen and Elliott streets and Mallard Avenue that’s a prospective development target.

Supporters of expanding the historic district, mainly the urban homesteaders who’ve helped revitalize the neighborhood in recent years, want the parcel included. They worry a project using its current downtown zoning would tower over adjoining homes.

“Right now, it’s a vacant, overgrown, weedy lot,” said Natalie Spring, one of the leaders of the Cleveland-Holloway residents. “Neighbors don’t want it to stay a vacant, overgrown, weedy lot. We want development there, we want a big, dense structure, on Roxboro, that tapers into the neighborhood. That’s what our hope is.”

But the site’s zoning allows structures up to 50 feet tall. Across Queen and Mallard streets are one- and two-story houses.

The vacant property belongs to Nick Galifiankis – a former U.S. congressman – and James Bradford. They don’t want it included in the expanded historic district for fear of having to go to a different board, the Historic Preservation Commission, for a “certificate of appropriateness” for any new building.

The site “is not big enough” for the sort of wedding-cake transition in building height the neighbors want, said Mark Galifianakis, son of Nick Galifianakis.

“To rezone this property now would be like pulling the rug out from under us,” given that the owners are already in the midst of planning a project, he added. “We’re here tonight basically playing defense trying to keep our propery under one zoning.”

The quarrel is one that’s been going on now for three years, and one the City Council has already weighed in on.

It voted in the current zoning in 2010, brushing aside a request from Cleveland-Holloway residents that the Bradford-Galifianakis tract not be labeled part of downtown for regulatory purposes.

The Planning Commission vote, deadlocked though it was, cleared the way for the council to take up the issue again, this time focusing on whether the property should be included in the expanded historic district to help buffer the neighborhood.

A complicating factor in the Planning Commission’s debate was that the owners of several other properties, also on the edges of the expanded district but in other parts of it, asked to be left out of it.

There appeared to be more sympathy for the requests from Chris Dickey – a city Office of Economic and Workforce Development staffer – and Tyler Waring, even though the homes they own are 104 and 89 years old respectively.

Also seeking exemption was South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces Inc. – better known as SEEDS. It’s a nonprofit that operates a community garden out of a building on Gilbert Street.

Executive Director Emily Egge said that, among other things, the sort of fencing that would likely be required to meet with historic-district standards would not “fit with the aesthetic and community feel we’d like to continue.”

Several Planning Commission members made it plain they didn’t want any property owner included against his or her will.

“I want to support this, but cannot support this when there’s a steamroller in effect,” city delegate Melvin Whitley said.

Others were willing to include the vacant Bradford-Galifianakis tract, and a couple appeared dubious of omitting Dickey and Waring’s properties.

Ultimately, “we’re going to have to do some triage,” city delegate Barbara Beechwood said.

The existing Cleveland-Holloway historic district has been in place since 1987. City/county planners started working on the expansion in 2010, at residents’ request.

The neighborhood is just east of the downtown loop, north of the county’s downtown library and the WTVD building.