Council votes down project on N.C. 54

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 08:27 AM

An unusually dramatic City Council vote on Monday blocked a developer’s plan to build 300 apartments, an eight-pump gas station and self-storage units at the corner of N.C. 54 and Barbee Road.

The council’s vote on the Meadows at Southpoint was 5-2, one short of the supermajority the project’s developer needed to overcome a formal protest from neighbors in the adjoining Hunters Wood subdivision.

The decisive vote appeared to come from Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden, who joined Mayor Bill Bell — a Hunters Wood resident — in opposing the requested zoning.

Cole-McFadden joined the council with Bell in 2001 and has said it’s a point of pride for her to have the mayor’s back. In practice, that has meant ensuring he can always count on having two votes for his position rather than just one.

Bell in this case made it clear he would vote with his neighbors, but he appeared to signal that he wasn’t necessarily expecting the rest of the council to follow suit.

“It’s fine; it’s your vote,” he told Cole-McFadden as she fumbled with the council’s electronic vote-recording equipment at the climax of the debate.

The mayor had previously urged members to “vote their conscience” and said his was only one vote.

Hunters Wood residents told the council they were opposed to the project in part because of its inclusion of the self-storage units, and in part because they were skeptical of developer Jim Anderson’s claim he’s planning to build luxury apartments akin to those nearer TheStreets at Southpoint mall.

The presence of the storage units and the expanded gas station — there’s a four-pump station already on 50-acre site — didn’t jibe with the idea of luxury apartments, said Nellie Riley, who like Bell lives on Huntsman Drive in Hunters Wood.

Other residents said they preferred the site’s present zoning, even though it would allow a fairly large office development, because it could mean less traffic using two-lane Barbee Road as a shortcut to the mall.

Monday’s vote split other established alliances. The neighbors’ leader was George Brine, a former chairman of the Durham Planning Commission who served on that panel with Councilman Don Moffitt.

But Moffitt made it clear early on that he would be supporting the rezoning because of the concessions Anderson, lawyer Ken Spaulding and landscape architect George Stanziale had made to the neighbors in behind-the-scenes negotiations.

“In the many cases I have heard, I’m not sure I’ve seen as many concessions as [in] this one,” said Moffitt, who usually voted with Brine when the two served on the Planning Commission.

The concessions included a large cut in the proposed density of the apartments. The project late last year included 365 units, but Anderson dropped that to 300 in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Other conditions addressed an assortment of developer-funded road improvements Moffitt and other council members thought were worth accepting.

As usual in south Durham development quarrels, density was a factor in the debate. But rather than criticizing the numbers Anderson was proposing, council members who’ve questioned the size of other projects said the site’s location made the developer’s ideas more acceptable.

“I do in general believe density is appropriate along 54,” said Councilwoman Diane Catotti, who last month was in the minority against a different Stanziale/Spaulding project that did wind up receiving the council’s approval.

Brine disagreed.

“We do not subscribe to the idea that all future development in south Durham must be on tiny lots or that all develop adjacent to thoroughfares must be apartments or townhomes,” he said.

Councilman Steve Schewel said the concessions Anderson made likely produced a better plan for neighbors than other developers might put forward – a point that Bell echoed.

A high-density project at the corner “is coming, and it’s part and parcel of where you live on 54,” Schewel told the neighbors.