Durham County

Thousands of new residents are coming to Durham. Weigh in Tuesday on where they live.

Durham proposing higher density to ease housing concerns

Durham housing is in demand, especially downtown, and city leaders are considering opening up the zoning to allow much more of it. Some neighborhoods want housing density vote delayed to allow further study.
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Durham housing is in demand, especially downtown, and city leaders are considering opening up the zoning to allow much more of it. Some neighborhoods want housing density vote delayed to allow further study.

Durham needs more homes built more quickly to meet its housing needs over the next 25 years, planners say.

An estimated 160,000 additional residents are expected by 2045, requiring 2,000 new dwellings county-wide every year to keep up, according to a memo that planners sent to City Manager Tom Bonfield.

On Tuesday the City Council will hold a public hearing at on proposed changes to the rules that govern where and what kinds of new homes can be built. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall downtown.

The changes, known as Expanded Housing Choices, represent 15 months of work by the Planning Department, says Director Patrick Young.

“There has been a real focus on community outreach and involvement,” he said. “We’ve tried to listen to people all across the city, particularly those would be directly affected and others who may have felt left out of the process before.”

Expanded Housing Choices would allow more, and more varied, housing mostly in Durham’s Urban Tier, neighborhoods generally within two miles of downtown.

They would allow duplexes, create a new small-lot option, align duplexes and attached single-family housing with detached single-family standards, increase opportunities for accessory dwelling units and modify residential infill standards, according to the memo.

Planning for urban density

Durham has five planning tiers: Rural, Suburban, Urban, Compact Neighborhood and Downtown.

While the Suburban Tier is anticipated to absorb the majority of Durham’s population growth, the Urban Tier is expected to absorb about 15% of new dwelling units, the memo says.

Over the last decade, building permits show an average of 95 dwelling units built per year in the Urban Tier. Planners estimate that 140 new units per year will need to be built in the Urban Tier to meet the housing needs downtown, the memo says.

Cities achieve dense redevelopment by growing up with taller buildings or “growing in,” incremental infill of existing neighborhoods.

Durham’s Expanding Housing Choices plan offers strategies for how to “grow in,” particularly in the Urban Tier, the memo says.

“We think these recommendations are important to create access and maintain access for people already living in Durham,” Young said.

Neighborhood protection

During a recent meeting, Forest Hills resident Ellen Pless asked City Council members to consider how Expanding Housing Choices might affect neighborhoods with protection overlays, unique zoning rules meant to preserve community character.

The Old West Durham neighborhood got an overlay in 2018, while the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood received one in 2008.

“The city of Durham must be careful to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach that would be attractive to developers, incentivize tear downs and result in design loss,” Pless said. “This could erode the integrity and historic fabric of some Urban Tier historic districts.”

Planners will track and monitor trends to ensure any new regulations don’t create unintended or negative consequences, the memo says.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.
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