City may sell parking lot to Self-Help

Apr. 05, 2013 @ 06:21 PM

City Council members Thursday signaled they’re willing to consider selling a public parking lot off West Chapel Hill Street to the Self-Help credit union for inclusion in a proposed redevelopment effort.

Self-Help has offered the city $37,000 for the lot, which by varying accounts has 12 or 14 spaces. Administrators propose opening an “upset bidding” process that would give anyone else interested in buying the property a chance to top Self-Help’s offer.

Council members put the matter on the consent agenda for their April 15 meeting, which means they intend to authorize the start of the bidding process and aren’t figuring on debating it further.

The move came after City Manager Tom Bonfield assured them he and his staff won’t close the deal until and unless the council approves Kent Corner, the project Self-Help is proposing.

But the site plan “can’t be reviewed unless there’s some understanding” between the city and Self-Help that the lot will be included in the project, Bonfield said.

Kent Corner is targeting land at the corner of West Chapel Hill and Kent streets that city officials for years now have considered a key redevelopment prospect.

The credit union wants to build a complex that would include 10,000 square feet of retail space and 38,000 square feet of offices.

The likely tenant for the retail space is Durham Central Market, a would-be cooperative grocery store. That aspect of the proposal sparked a recusal from Thursday’s discussion of Councilman Don Moffitt, the market’s project manager.

The administration proposal drew objections from two neighbors, David Anthony and Hillary Honig, who said want assurances an equivalent amount of parking remains available to the public.

Their argument was that without adequate parking, Kent Corner could wind up choking off other redevelopment opportunities in the West Chapel Hill Street corridor.

Honig said previous study of the area has identified potential parking shortages as a key challenge for commercial development.

The complaints highlighted, for the second time in the past few months, that Kent Corner could become an unusually thorny project for the council to review.

Self-Help has secured an endorsement of its plan from one key interest group, the Morehead Hill Neighborhood Association. A second group, the Burch Avenue Neighborhood Association, supported the city’s selling the parking lot to the credit union.

But some other residents say Self-Help has kept its zoning application intentionally vague, and that it has to make more concessions to secure widespread backing.

Anthony lives next door to the site and in February told the council via email that he expects his property “going commercial as well” unless the manner of Kent Corner’s development gives Self-Help de-facto control of the area.

He has urged the council to approve the project incrementally. In one email he said Kent Corner could turn into an example of “how to build a ghetto.”

But Burch Avenue association president Isaac Price wrote council members Tuesday to say his organization polled residents of its neighborhood and found only a couple that oppose the zoning change Self-Help needs.

Residents do want limits on building height and on the types of businesses allowed on the site in the event Self-Help’s plan falls through, Price said.

Councilman Eugene Brown on Thursday made it clear he’s baffled by the objections.

He said he’s familiar with the area by virtue of living and working nearby and has seldom seen more than two cars parking in the city’s lot at any given time.

“Obviously, we’re going to wait for the site plan and all the information,” Brown said. “But this is a neighborhood that needs a project, in my judgment, such as what is being proposed by Self-Help. I’d like to see this go forward, of course with citizen and neighborhood input.”