Durham comprehensive plan may need update

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 02:31 PM

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much right now.

Two residential projects in southwest Durham this week won approval from the City Council to veer away from the lighter density called for in the comprehensive plan.

The Montclair development, off Barbee Chapel and Farrington Mill roads, includes 15 more homes than the city’s land-use policy calls for in that region. Developer Weekley Homes LLC got the green light to build 2.87 dwellings per acre on land designated for no more than two an acre.

Southpoint Trails, on land off N.C. 751, got approval to build 5.5 units an acre in an area specified for no more than four units per acre.

Again, by themselves, these don’t seem like such a big deal. They might even be necessary, given the circumstances.

After all, as The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported, the developer wanted the extra units for Montclair so they could afford to install a sewage pump station on the site.

And Southpoint Trails wants to make up for the expense of adding lanes on N.C. 751 – a cost estimated at $300,000 - demanded by the city.

Councilman Eugene Brown acknowledged that it would be challenging to build Southpoint Trails within the four-unit cap and make a profit.

“And obviously the developer is not going to do it unless there’s a profit,” Brown said.

That’s a fair point.

But we share concerns raised in recent weeks by councilmen Steve Schewel and Don Moffitt about development densities in south Durham.

Schewel said in a meeting earlier this month that he doesn’t want to boost density south of Interstate 40 “in an area where I think the community has expressed its will very clearly that we keep the development down there not very dense.”

Moffitt concurred, saying it’s tough to make adjustments piece-by-piece “without looking at the context as a whole.”

Times may change and attitudes may change, but the need to use caution in developing in sensitive areas around Jordan Lake remains constant. What doesn’t seem like much right now could cascade into something that renders the well-intentioned comprehensive plan meaningless.

It may be worthwhile to revisit the plan – first developed in 2005 - and provide an overhaul, rather than changing it with each new project, inflicting a death of a thousand cuts.