Tower plan clears hurdle

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 06:11 PM

A Colorado developer’s plan to build a 26-story skyscraper in downtown Durham got a boost Tuesday when the Historic Preservation Commission said the project is appropriate for its site.

The 6-1 decision certified that the tower is consistent with the historic character of the downtown district and the city’s guidelines for it. Member Andrew Sprouse dissented, objecting to the proposed building’s 296-foot height.

Even among the members who supported the project, that was “not something that everyone was necessarily super-comfortable with,” said Lisa Miller, a city/county planner who advises the board.

But they “thought the proposal was done in a sensitive manner and was meeting the guidelines,” Miller said.

The project is earmarked for a site on the east side of North Corcoran Street, between West Parrish and West Main streets, that once hosted Durham’s Woolworth’s store.

Across the street is the SunTrust tower, a 76-year-old building that’s now Durham’s fifth-tallest.

Though developers have talked for about a decade about building a skyscraper of some sort on the Woolworth’s site, the height issue has provoked some comment because the SunTrust tower is only a bit over 200 feet tall.

Planners told the preservation commission the new building “will significantly alter the downtown skyline” and limit views of the historic SunTrust tower “from certain locations.”

But the city’s zoning of downtown allows 300-foot buildings as a matter of right. Its preservation guidelines counsel that while new construction should be “compatible” with old, “this is not intended to restrict to overall mass or height of buildings in the district.”

The 300-foot mark coincides with the height of downtown’s tallest building, the Durham Centre, a 26-year-old building on the northern edge of the downtown loop.

Durham’s tallest building isn’t downtown. The honor goes to the 356-foot University Tower, the South Square-area building more commonly known by nicknames like “The Pickle.”

The firm spearheading work on the new tower, Austin Lawrence Partners, is planning a mix of apartments, shops and office space. It estimates the building will cost $40 million.

Plans indicate that everything from the sixth floor on up will be residential. In line with the city’s guidelines, architects are proposing a wedding-cake-like layout where the first five floors are each bigger than those in the tower above.

The tower will be stepped back 25 feet from Corcoran Street and 15 feet from Parrish and Main streets.