Durham County

New townhouses coming to south Durham, despite neighbors’ claims of ‘tainted’ process

Twenty-five new townhouses will be built off of N.C. 54 near the Woodcroft Shopping Center, Jordan High School and I-40 in South Durham.
Twenty-five new townhouses will be built off of N.C. 54 near the Woodcroft Shopping Center, Jordan High School and I-40 in South Durham. Google maps

South Durham is getting new townhouses, but some neighbors aren’t happy about it.

Jeffrey Brandenburg lives in Woodcroft, near the 6.65-acre Rollingdale development that will be built after the Durham City Council approved a rezoning Monday night.

He told the council that he’s worried about increased traffic and stormwater runoff. Other neighbors also voiced opposition because of traffic and loss of trees.

Rollingdale’s 25 townhouses will be built off of N.C. 54, near the Woodcroft neighborhood as well as Woodcroft Shopping Center, Jordan High School and The Streets at Southpoint shopping mall.

Patrick Byker of Morningstar Law Group said Monday that the townhouse sale prices would be “in the high 200s,” which he said would help address missing middle housing. “Missing middle” refers to mid-range homes affordable to the middle class rather than more expensive homes.

Planning commissioner controversy

When the Rollingdale rezoning first came before the council in June, Nil Ghosh was the Morningstar attorney representing the developer.

But Ghosh is also on the Durham Planning Commission, an advisory board appointed by the city and the county. Council members raised questions about a possible conflict of interest by Ghosh, who voted in favor of the rezoning in April along with a majority of the planning commission. Ghosh maintained that the developer was not a client until after the commission’s vote.

Because Ghosh was appointed by the county, City Attorney Patrick Baker referred the question about a conflict and possible code of ethics violation to the county. In July, County Manager Wendell Davis and County Attorney Lowell Siler said they were still working on it. On Monday, Baker said the county decided that there was no code of ethics violation by Ghosh.

Woodcroft residents still questioned Ghosh’s involvement Monday night at City Hall. Brandenburg said even though Ghosh wasn’t found to have violated the county’s code of ethics, he thinks the planning commission vote in favor of Rollingdale is “tainted.”

Ghosh was at the council meeting Monday, but stayed in the audience.

Resident Keith Boudreau also said Monday that Ghosh was “almost like a motivated salesman” during the planning commission vote in April and thinks Ghosh affected the outcome of the commission’s decision. The commission’s recommendation to the city council is advisory only, and council votes whether or not to approve the rezoning.

Council member Vernetta Alston said Ghosh’s action “triggered an ethical violation” and that while she was voting to approve the Rollingdale rezoning, she hoped “this situation encouraged your firm and firms like it to make greater efforts to be more transparent.”

Council member Charlie Reece and Mayor Steve Schewel also said they still had concerns, despite the county’s decision. Schewel said he was shocked that Ghosh came before the council representing the developer.

The rezoning passed 6-1, with council member DeDreana Freeman voting no.

The development

A petition called “No to the rezoning of 602/606 W. HWY 54 in Durham and unreasonable 54 development” had 289 online signatures, but it wasn’t enough to sway the council’s vote.

The Rollingdale neighborhood will have larger tree buffers than required. Reece said the developer increased the buffer after neighbor concerns and that there would be no perfect resolution between the neighbors and developer.

Other multi-family developments near Rollingdale include Whitney Park, Spring Hill, Audubon Lake and Darby Glen, as well as office buildings along N.C. 54.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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