Council OKs early hearing for Cook Road project

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 08:23 PM

City Council members have agreed to hold early hearings on a rezoning request from a developer who wants to build low-cost housing on a site off Cook Road near Hope Valley Farms North.

The vote on expediting the request from Workforce Homestead Inc. was 6-0, and came over the objections of a representative of the neighborhood association.

Members acted after the company’s leader, Jim Yamin, told them he’s working against a May 17 deadline to apply to the state for low-income housing tax credits.

Yamin filed his rezoning application on Feb. 8; a hearing in April or May would be unusually speedy.

But “a denial of the expedited hearing was tantamount to a denial of the rezoning request because of the deadlines for financing,” Councilman Don Moffitt said on Tuesday. “What you saw last night was council saying, ‘We want to take a look at it; we want it to get a hearing so it at least sees the light of day.’”

The Durham Planning Commission is scheduled to review the application next Wednesday in advance of taking a non-binding advisory vote city/county planners then will relay to the council.

Moffitt, a former Planning Commission chairman, said the council will ponder the merits of the project after it reviews the actual application and the commission’s advice.

Yamin has told Hope Valley Farms North neighborhood leaders that he’d like to build 76 units on a 10.4-acre parcel off Cook Road, just south of the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and east of South Roxboro Street.

The site is in a still-developing corridor that’s seen a Wal-Mart and McDonald’s open nearby in the last year or so.

It’s been a development target in the past, a prior applicant in 2006 getting the council’s OK to build up to 60 townhouses there. That project, however, fell through. The property now belongs to a bank, which acquired it in foreclosure.

Via email, Yamin told neighborhood association board President John Ujvari that the units he’s planning would rent, on average, for $632 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and $730 for a three-bedroom.

The tax credits – a common financing method for low-cost housing projects – would offset borrowing costs and contribute to the project’s affordability to renters, he said.

The rezoning will pose a conundrum for the council for no other reason than that it doesn’t include a “development plan” of the type to which it can attach binding conditions.

Council and Planning Commission members prefer it when a formal development plan comes with a rezoning precisely because that gives them a platform for seeking concessions from a developer.

The issue for developers like Yamin is that a plan-attached rezoning takes city officials longer to review – about a year, many times.

Yamin told Ujvari he’s willing to put promises similar to those made by the prior developer in writing, as part of his funding application to the N.C. Housing Finance Agency.

“As such, they will become binding on us” if the agency approves the tax credits, Yamin said in his message.

Moffitt indicated that the council might need some convincing about that.

Any violations “won’t be a zoning-enforcement issue” as they would if the application included a development plan, he said. “It’ll be a different contract.”