Council OKs townhouses for 751 corridor

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 10:26 PM

City Council members voted 4-3 on Monday to allow a developer to place up to 149 townhouses in the proposed Southpoint Trails project in south Durham off N.C. 751.
The split reflected a disagreement among council members about whether to enforce a 2005 policy that called for a tapering-off of density in the area from Renaissance Parkway south to Durham’s border with Chatham County.
The 2005 policy – embedded in Durham’s “comprehensive plan” – called for allowing no more than four dwellings an acre. Southpoint Trails will include 5.5 units an acre.
Councilman Eugene Brown, who voted for the policy in 2005, favored approval of the requested zoning on Monday. He said holding to the four-units-an-acre limit would deter anyone from building on the site at all.
As for the comprehensive plan, it “is not etched in stone,” Brown said. “It is a guide, a map, and each site is to be judged individually.”
Brown joined Mayor Bill Bell and fellow council members Howard Clement and Cora Cole-McFadden in supporting the project.
The opposing votes came from council members Diane Catotti, Don Moffitt and Steve Schewel. They favored enforcing the tapering-off.
When it comes to the higher allotment, “I can see why the developer wants it,” Schewel said. “I can’t see what the overriding community good is.”
City/county planners had warned the vote could set a precedent for other yet-to-be-developed land in south Durham.
The issue has been on the front burner for local officials since County Commissioners in 2010 approved zoning for the proposed 751 South project, which would place up to 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space on a site off N.C. 751 close to the county line.
Before Monday’s hearing, the Florida-based developers of Southpoint Trails agreed to chop 15 units from their plan and make sure that five of those that remain are affordable to buyers who make 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.
The developer’s representatives and council members described the affordability concession as the first of its kind in Durham.
It answered points raised late last year by Bell, Schewel and a couple other council members. “We’re trying to do something that frankly probably will set a precedent for other developers,” said George Stanziale, the project’s landscape architect.
He added that his clients “will lose money” on each of the five price-limited units.
The pledge means units that would normally sell for about $250,000 each will instead go “in the $150,000 to $160,000 range, maybe less,” Stanziale said.
Given ordinary affordability guidelines, a $150,000 price tag suggests buyers will need to make about $60,000 a year. Full-priced units would require about $100,000 a year in income.
Stanziale said the developers will sprinkle the low-cost units throughout the project and make sure they look like their full-cost brethren.
But he offered no other concessions on the point, and the council didn’t ask for any.
Affordability pledges might be new to Durham, but officials in neighboring Chapel Hill began routinely asking for them in rezoning negotiations 15 years ago.
They insist that builders work with a local nonprofit or take other steps to ensure that units meet the income guidelines long-term, to ensure that a project’s first-in buyers don’t reap a windfall by selling later at the full market rate.
Monday’s vote resolved a 3-3 deadlock that emerged when the council, in Clement’s absence, first considered the project in November.
Moffitt joined the council in January, replacing Mike Woodard, who now is a state senator. Woodard voted against Southpoint Trails in November.