Kentington Heights project ready for review

Aug. 02, 2013 @ 08:39 PM

The long-running debate about the future of south Durham’s Kentington Heights neighborhood is about to come to a head, as officials prepare for zoning hearings on a project that would turn much of it into a car dealership.

City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin confirmed that the zoning application is ready for review, with the Durham Planning Commission scheduled to get its first look at it on Aug. 13.

Medlin and his staff are recommending approval, though they say the project could act as “a catalyst for additional growth in the area,” particularly to the south toward Massey Chapel Road.

Also a matter for official concern is a division of property in the neighborhood that ensures that undeveloped tracts east of the proposed dealership will only be reachable through the project, they say.

The Kentington Heights project’s long history dates to the development of The Streets at Southpoint mall in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Despite its proximity to the city, Kentington Height isn’t connected to Durham’s sewer system. It has septic problems and, after the mall was built, some landowners made it clear that they would prefer to cash in via commercial development instead of seeing the neighborhood remain residential.

They convinced the City Council to label the neighborhood as a redevelopment candidate.

Since then, would-be developers have tried simultaneously to option enough land and identify prospective tenants. A proposed Wal-Mart got to the zoning-application stage, but that fell through before the Planning Commission and City Council could review it.

The car dealership – tied to the Rick Hendrick chain – emerged early this year as the next possibility.

The plan has drawn criticism from residents and landowners of the east side of Kentington Heights who’ve been left out and fear that the new plan will hurt the marketability of their property.

Additional fire has come of late from George Stanziale, a Durham landscape architect who’s been involved in most of the development that’s occurred at and around the mall.

His clients included the developers behind the still-unfinished Southpoint Auto Park, which was pitched to the council as an alternative to the sort of strip development that Durham saw years ago along the U.S. 15-501 corridor.

But that project stalled after separate Honda and Lexus dealerships moved in. Stanziale’s emails to the City Council question the rationale for allowing a second pod of car sales in the area.

“We very carefully planned Southpoint,” Stanziale said in an interview. “We have an auto park; that’s where auto dealerships ought to go, and we shouldn’t be lining our streets with auto dealerships.

He added that he doubts a dealership at Kentington Heights will “be a palatable transition from retail to [the] residential south of the mall.”

The upcoming Planning Commission hearing will produce a recommendation to the City Council, which has final say over whether and when Kentington Heights is rezoned.