A modernist moment in a changing Durham neighborhood

New homes in the Pleiades Modern pocket neighborhood in Old North Durham. “We really want to create something that benefits not only the people who buy our homes, but the larger community as well,” says developer Adam Dickinson.
New homes in the Pleiades Modern pocket neighborhood in Old North Durham. “We really want to create something that benefits not only the people who buy our homes, but the larger community as well,” says developer Adam Dickinson. Amy Rossi for Pleiades Modern

She is sweeping fall off her small porch when I walk up.

“I like growth, but the thing that’s killing me is the taxes,” Amanda Stanfield says. “I open my mail, and I say, ‘Whew!’”

I’ve pulled onto Glendale Avenue to see the new modernist homes. The developer is holding an open house I’ve seen on Facebook. I park in the circular dead end, across from the four new structures at the end of the street, a few blocks from Motorco and Fullsteam Brewery.

Stanfield’s home is 1,000 square feet. It’s worth $145,000, according to county property records, up from $97,500 when she bought it 13 years ago.

She works in security and is wearing faded jeans and a gray Duke sweatshirt. She keeps her eyes on the cement floor as she sweeps, tolerating the reporter in her front yard on a Sunday afternoon.

I ask if she’s been to see the new homes on her block. She hasn’t. I tell they’re selling for $495,000.

“What?” she says, pulling up her broom.

“Really? Oh my God.”

She turns and goes inside. I think the interview might be over. But she grabs her keys, comes back outside and heads down the steps.

As we walk down the street, we pass a group of Latino men grilling in their driveway.

“How y’all doing?” Stanfield shouts out and smiles. “Smells great.”

Pleiades Modern

Realtor Adam Dickinson stands in the kitchen of the furnished model home at 804 Glendale, brochures fanned out on the table.

He, his wife and partner are developing the nine-home project called Pleiades (PLEE-uh-deez) Modern, as Vickers Ventures LLC.

Light flows through the 1,600-square-foot model home. The glass front door opens onto a small dining area, followed shotgun style by the kitchen and living room, where more glass doors open onto a grass courtyard. You can see the storefronts on Mangum Street past the empty facing lots where the remaining houses will be built.

The walls are white, and the appliances energy efficient. A steep hardwood staircase leads to the three bedrooms upstairs, the master bedroom spacious with a private bathroom, tiled shower and walk-in closet.

They call it a “pocket neighborhood,” because the nine homes will share the courtyard. While private property, Dickinson hopes it will become a gathering spot for the surrounding area, not just the new residents.

“The best backyard in the neighborhood,” he says “That’s our ideal vision.”

‘Just waiting’

Freelon for mayor signs lean against the front stoop on the small house across from the model home. A Black Lives Matter sign stands in the grass.

Emily Carey, 29, comes outside in bare feet.

The public school teacher – she worked at Glenn Elementary before a higher supplement lured her to Wake County – has lived in the Old North Durham neighborhood for five years. She and a roommate split the $900 rent.

“Most of it was just a field that we’d walk our dog through,” she says of the lots where Pleiades Modern is going.

“I’m just waiting for my rent to go up,” she says.

She calls her friend and next-door neighbor over. Nolan Allan is a poet, photographer and waiter.

And a “gentrifier,” he tells me.

Young white people like them are part of the cycle. “The first wave is white flight,” Allan explains. An area becomes less desirable, creating opportunity for folks like him to live cheaply, until the neighborhood becomes desirable again, pushing them out.

Both of them encourage me to talk with their black neighbors, like Stanfield and an older woman a few houses up the street who told Carey to be careful walking alone at night. I thank them for talking with me, go knock on the older woman’s door and leave a note when no one answers.

Photo Oct 17, 10 25 55 AM_preview
The view of the Pleiades Modern project from Mangum Street. New homes will be built in the foreground, with the grass becoming a common area shared by those houses and the four new homes on Glendale Avenue seen in the photograph. “We really want to create something that benefits not only the people who buy our homes, but the larger community as well,” says developer Adam Dickinson. Pleiades Modern

Affordable housing

Dickinson gets that gentrification is an issue, but he says his and similarly priced new housing projects nearby can be part of an eventual solution.

The three lots he and his partners bought had a combined tax value of between $200,000 and $250,000 and had been on the market for three or four months, he said. They disassembled the one house that was there and donated the materials to Habitat for Humanity.

Pleiades Modern will boost the properties’ tax value to “5, 6, maybe $7 million,” and generate $70,000 in city and county property taxes a year, “forever.”

“If the city can’t find a way to make one affordable housing [unit] a year [with that money] then shame on us as a city for not figuring out how to do that,” he says.

Moreover, a dense, energy-efficient project like Pleiades makes sense, Dickinson says.

As infill development, it puts needed housing where the infrastructure already exists. There’s no new road that has to be built, then turned over and maintained by taxpayers. Because Pleiades is close to the clubs and downtown, its residents will be able to walk when they go out.

“I hear the concerns,” says Dickinson, who lives in a 1920s house in Trinity Park he restored himself. “What we’ve created here is not affordable for most, or even many.”

They would have liked to add one more house, bringing the average price per unit down, or to build townhouses, he says, but to build 10 or more units and comply with stormwater rules would have cost another $300,000 before construction.

And something was going to be built on the property, he says.

“I love Durham. I’ve been here 13 years, which I know is not long compared to [some],” Dickinson says. “Durham has gone through a period of transformation in recent years, and not everyone has benefited from it.”

“It is a concern, but I think it’s one the city as a whole needs to figure out a solution to.”

Closet and sinks

Upstairs Stanfield opens the closet doors and peers into the double-sink, master bathroom.

“Who’d of ever thought ...?” she says to no one in particular. From the floor-to-ceiling window in a bedroom down the hall she can see the small houses where Carey and Allan live across the street.

I let her keep looking and go outside to wait. A steady stream of visitors drive up. They are mostly white: a man in black Spandex bike shorts, a woman with the side of her head shaved. A gay couple.

Stanfield comes back outside, treading the wood stairs slowly.

“It’s really nice,” she says, “but I wouldn’t put the value that high.”

An open house for the Pleiades Modern project will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, at 804 Glendale Ave. in Old North Durham.

Mark Schultz is the managing editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-829-8950 or mschultz@heraldsun.com.

Affordable housing

Many Durham neighborhoods, especially those near downtown, have seen property values double and triple in recent years.

The median price of homes listed for sale in Durham in October was $274,900, according to Zillo, a real estate website. The median rent in Durham was $1,350.

Most experts consider housing to be affordable when it requires no more than 30 percent of a houshold’s total income.

That’s out of reach for many in Durham County, where the N.C. Housing Coalition estimates 45 percent of renters and 22 percent of homeowners – just over 39,000 households total – pay more than that.

Mark Schultz

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