Schewel, Moffitt favor policy review for south Durham land use

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 08:51 PM

Two city councilmen signaled Thursday that they see a policy-level review of Durham’s countywide land-use plan as the right venue for settling the ongoing debate about whether to allow denser development in south Durham.

Councilman Steve Schewel raised the issue by way of noting that elected officials are scheduled to vote Feb. 18 on two projects that would break the density caps the non-binding plan, approved in 2005, suggested for the area.

Schewel, who voted against one project in a council deadlock late last year, said he’s “reluctant to increase density south of [Interstate]40 in an area where I think the community has expressed its will very clearly that we keep the development down there not very dense.”

But if the elected officials who sit on the Joint City/County Planning Committee “wanted to take another look at that,” through a policy review, “I would certainly be in favor of that or interested in that.”

He acknowledged some interests have argued that “times have changed or conditions have changed” since elected officials agreed to a tapering-off density from The Streets of Southpoint mall to Durham’s border with Chatham County.

Councilman Don Moffitt – an appointee who formerly chaired the Durham Planning Commission – backed Schewel’s comments.

“Your idea of looking at the future land use south of I-40 is a good one,” Moffitt told Schewel. “It’s difficult to make plan adjustments on a piece-by-piece basis without looking at the context as a whole. I also understand the comprehensive plan may not be correct in some places. I’m totally on board with what you’re saying.”

The comments by Schewel and Moffitt came a day after City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin told the joint committee – a group of County Commissioners and council members who oversee his department’s work – that he thinks it’s time to consider reworking the countywide land-use policy.

Medlin didn’t qualify that with any south-of-the-interstate target, and he told the joint panel he thought budgetary constraints would prevent him from launching the project until fiscal 2014-15.

But City Manager Tom Bonfield later Wednesday said he’d had a brief discussion with planners about perhaps revisiting the plan for south Durham, in answer to developers’ frequent requests for density exceptions there.

Like Moffitt, Bonfield said it’s difficult for officials to address such applications “on a parcel-by-parcel basis.”

No one else on the council spoke on the issue during Thursday’s work session.

The council deadlocked 3-3 last November on the larger of the two projects that are back on its agenda, Southpoint Trails. Developers are seeking permission to build 164 townhouses at the corner of N.C. 751 and Stagecoach Road. The project requires zoning that would break the four-units-an-acre cap suggested for the site by the 2005 plan.

Moffitt joined the council last month as a replacement for former Councilman Mike Woodard, who’s now a state senator. Woodard joined Schewel and Councilwoman Diane Catotti in voting against Southpoint Trails.

Mayor Bill Bell, Councilman Eugene Brown and Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden voted in November to approve zoning for Southpoint Trails. Brown subsequently argued that the 2005 plan “is not written in stone,” but said he would not again support the project absent some compromise.