In a split and at times tense discussion, the Durham City Council voted to annex and rezone 88 acres along Leesville Road this week so a developer can build 330 townhouses.
Tim Sivers, of Horvath Associates, promised to make 3% of the units affordable for those making 80% of the area’s median income.
The votes to annex and rezone were 4-3, with DeDreana Freeman, Monique Holsey-Hyman and Mayor Elaine O’Neal voting no.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton clashed with Freeman on balancing the need for housing with water quality concerns expressed by some residents.
“I’m reminded of a joke that a conservationist is a person with a house in the woods and a developer is a person who wants one,” Middleton said. “What we are facing as decision makers is everybody wants to live here.”
Freeman highlighted activists who said sediment was muddying residents’ well water.
“Our developers will continue to make money hand over fist as we move forward because this council is going to continue approving these types of developments,” Freeman said. “If we’re not going to put all the county residents on city water, then we can’t say we’re not having an impact. Their water is being impacted and it’s us approving annexations in areas around them. That is on us.”
After the Planning Commission voted 9-1 in April not to recommend the proposal, Horvath added the affordable housing component, promised a traffic signal on Leesville Road if the N.C. Department of Transportation agrees, and said they would donate $45,000 to Durham Public Schools and $33,000 to the city’s dedicated housing fund.
They also committed to preserving trees on 30% of the land and limiting impervious surfaces where water runs off to 24% of the total area. They also promised erosion-control measures they hope will ease stormwater and water-quality concerns.
“I really, really appreciate what the developer is bringing to us tonight. On every single metric, it is way above and beyond what our own UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) requires,” Council member Javiera Caballero said. “What we get out of this case puts pressure on the next case… They’re not going to do better if we just vote no on everything.”
“We’ve got to build more housing in this city and it’s got to go somewhere. Quite honestly, it’s got to go everywhere,” agreed Council member Jillian Johnson. “This is a short commute for people to downtown.”
City water and sewer will be extended to the project.
Leesville Road development divides neighbors in Durham
The land is in Southeast Durham nestled beside the Fendol Farms and Carolina Arbors single-family neighborhoods. Carolina Arbors also was a Horvath project.
A couple dozen people on opposing sides were in the City Council chambers Tuesday night to debate the matter.
“Since my father passed in 1997, my family has not rushed to sell,” Kathleen Alexander, who grew up on the property, told the Council. “We’ve spent years considering when and who we would trust to develop our beloved private property.”
Alexander said Horvath was a trustworthy partner.
Other proponents said the proposed townhomes would help fill vital housing needs.
“By approving this project, you are empowering the people with the opportunity to improve their lives and have convenient access to the thousands of new jobs that are coming to the area and the ones that are already here,” Sean Coleman said.
Opponents, many associated with Preserve Rural Durham, largely emphasized environmental and traffic concerns.
“This spells disaster for Leesville Road. It will become the new 98. And if you’ve ever been on Highway 98 between Durham and Wake Forest, you know that is a nightmare,” Faye Cavalchire said.
Donna Stainback said she didn’t believe the townhomes would be affordable to teachers, police and nurses.
“There are not any stores, businesses or jobs within walking distance,” Stainback said, calling it an example of suburban sprawl.
Last month, the City Council rejected another request for annexation and rezoning in the area.
That vote failed 3-3 along the same lines, with Johnson (who voted yes on Tuesday) out sick.
O’Neal said she was looking forward to a “deep dive” on housing the City Council will get Friday during a retreat.
“The decisions we make today will outlive probably all of us when you talk about housing,” O’Neal said. “I cannot in good conscience vote yes until I am clear within myself that I understand the complexities of what we’re dealing with and that I am not going to exacerbate an already bad problem by relying on just my lived experiences and what I’ve learned in eight months (as mayor).”
This story was originally published September 8, 2022 4:57 PM.
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