Council urged to reject south Durham office project

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 08:09 PM

A divided Durham Planning Commission has advised elected officials to reject a zoning application that would allow the construction of two medical office buildings near the corner of N.C. 54 and Farrington Road.

The 8-4 vote against the proposed Carolina Crossing II development turned on traffic issues. The southwest Durham intersection is heavily congested thanks to being less than 100 yards from a set of on- and off-ramps to Interstate 40.

Lawyer Tom Stark said would-be developer Chris Howlett is willing to spend nearly $1 million to add turn lanes and other improvements to help make traffic flow more smoothly.

But the N.C. Department of Transportation says the additions will only handle the traffic generated by the project. They’re not extensive enough to produce any reduction in the congestion that dogs the area at rush hour.

To install them,“you have to pay to tear everything up, inconvenience everybody” and then “start over” when it comes time to actually put in the changes that local planning calls for to address the problem, county delegate Rebecca Board said, urging a vote against the rezoning.

Dissenters, however, accepted a city/county planning staff analysis that said post-development congestion along N.C. 54 would remain just within what elected officials deem acceptable limits.

By policy, rezonings should be denied if a road serving a project is over 110 percent of capacity.

Farrington Road post-development would run at 94 percent of capacity and N.C. 54 at nearly 108 percent.

“Tell me where we can go between the hours of 7 to 9 in the morning and 5 and 7 at night and not see traffic?” county delegate Rickey Padgett said, advocating approval. “If we gauge everything we approve or disapprove based on traffic, tax base in Durham will be flatlined. We won’t see anything coming to Durham and we’ll do the typical thing where we run everything to other communities or other counties.”

Board – who lives in the Downing Creek neighborhood about 1½ miles from the project site – didn’t find that argument convincing.

“I’m more familiar with the transportation issues in this corridor than some of the other people here are,” she said, perhaps alluding to Padgett’s residency nearly 19 miles from the project site, in the rural Bahama community in northern Durham.

The zoning request would allow Howlett and his business partners to erect two 84,000 square foot office buildings on what is now the site of Farrington Road Baptist Church.

The church occupies about 5 acres.

Howlett’s project would also include a 192,000-square-foot parking garage. Plans call for the development to unfold in two phases.

The decision on whether to approve the zoning is up to the City Council. Planning Commission votes are strictly advisory and thus are nonbinding.

Joining Padgett in favoring approval were county delegates Charlie Gibbs and David Smudski, plus city delegate David Harris.