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Developer wants to build large apartment building next to Durham Central Park

A rendering of the proposed Foster on the Park apartment project that was submitted to the Durham Board of Adjustment. The Board of Adjustment approved a special design use permit that allows the building’s courtyard to be opened to Foster Street rather than be closed by a wall.
A rendering of the proposed Foster on the Park apartment project that was submitted to the Durham Board of Adjustment. The Board of Adjustment approved a special design use permit that allows the building’s courtyard to be opened to Foster Street rather than be closed by a wall.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the price Blue Heron Asset Managment paid for the 539 Foster St. property.

A long-delayed development project next to Durham Central Park is gaining momentum.

Raleigh-based Blue Heron Asset Management has been trying to figure out what kind of project to build at 539 Foster St. in downtown Durham since 2016, when it scrapped its original plans to build 100 condominiums.

Financing for the project – which the company was calling 539 Foster – fell apart at that time, according to a report from Indy Week, but the company began submitting new plans for the one-acre parcel last year.

The new project, Foster on the Park, is still in the review process in the Durham City-County Planning Department, but the submitted plans call for a seven-story building with 160 apartments, 2,260 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a 63,000 square-foot parking structure.

Efforts to reach Blue Heron for this story were unsuccessful.

Those plans were approved on Nov. 30 of last year, according to planning department records, but Blue Heron asked to scale back a wall at the same time. The planning department is still considering that request, but the Durham Board of Adjustment approved the design change last week, said Jacob Rogers, a member of the board.

It is not clear what the current timeline for the project is or how much the apartments will go for. Rent on one-bedroom apartments at Liberty Warehouse across the street range from $1,300 a month to $1,600 a month.

According to Blue Heron’s website, the developer anticipates beginning construction this year.

Blue Heron has been working on the project since 2015, when it bought the property for $1.65 million, according to county land records.

The original condo project was approved in 2015, in a process that some criticized as not transparent enough. The issue of affordable housing was also debated, since Blue Heron was asking for easement rights from Durham Central Park, according to a report from Indy Week.

Blue Heron eventually agreed to pay $160,000 and donate $41,000 to Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing, for the easement rights, according to the report.

Erin Kauffman, the executive director of Durham Central Park, said she has recently spoken with Blue Heron about the apartment project. Durham Central Park is the nonprofit organization that runs the city-owned park.

The park, which is the home of the Durham Farmers’ Market and other community events, has seen a lot of development, with Liberty Warehouse Apartments and the condo project The Brannan recently being completed.

Kauffman said it has been nice to not deal with construction for the past few months but she understands that the property is up for development.

“Generally, for people hanging out at the park, it is not fun to hang out next to construction and it can be confusing because roads get closed,” she said. “(But) there has been so much construction for the past five years that people have become desensitized to it.”

She said whatever gets built will be a “paradigm shift,” and that she hopes they will be good neighbors. She noted that the Liberty Warehouse developer made a sizeable donation to help build a play structure and make sidewalk improvements, when it was doing construction.

“(Liberty) made some vast improvements in the park, for the good of the city and the people that enjoy the space,” she said. “We hope to see any developers that are doing work adjacent to the park have a willingness to make improvements to the park.”

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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