Published: Jun 26, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 25, 2012 12:47 PM
Prospective developers of 751 South are looking at a new style for their project, while another controversial subdivision plan just a mile away is coming up for a hearing its backers put off two months ago.
Southern Durham Development’s first preference is still to hook their 167-acre site onto a public water system. Failing that, president Alex Mitchell said last week, “We believe that ... we can build our project within the conservation subdivision rules.”
“Conservation subdivision” rules require at least 50 percent of a site to be open space. Building 751 South under those rules would require an overall redesign to fit the planned 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space, but would let the developers use private wells for a water supply.
Whether wells could supply enough water for several thousand residents plus businesses is questionable. Another uncertain element about the project has been removed, though: the company has withdrawn an application to change the terms of a 2010 rezoning that allowed 751 South to move ahead.
“We decided that, in the end, those modifications were not worth the heartburn that we had created with some people,” Mitchell said. “We can certainly work with the rezoning that we received in August, 2010. So, that’s what we will do.”
Project opponent Steve Bocckino doesn’t think Southern Durham’s interest in a conservation subdivision means very much.
“The developers are still planning to build the same ridiculous amount of retail, office and housing on the site as before,” he said. “So little is going to be changed that they believe the original development plan will still be valid and they won’t need a rezoning.”
Opponents have claimed that, with its size and density, 751 South would threaten water quality in already-polluted Jordan Lake.
“If (Southern Durham Development) built a real conservation subdivision ... the neighbors would rejoice and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ Without a substantial decrease in the intensity of development, opposition will certainly continue,” Bocckino said.
Mitchell said his company might drill wells after the City Council unanimously rejected Southern Durham’s application for connection to the city water-sewer system in February. Informed shortly afterward that wells would be allowable only for a conservation subdivision, Mitchell said Planning Director Steve Medlin was misinterpreting the rules but, “We’re going to explore every option we can to get water.”
It’s not clear what practical options there are. Connecting to a municipal system other than Durham’s would require building long, expensive pipelines, even assuming that Cary or some other jurisdiction were willing to let Southern Durham tie on. The developers could wait and hope a future City Council will approve a Durham connection, but it has already been more than four years since the project was announced.Trails at Southpoint
A mile north of the 751 South site, a Florida company called “751 LLC” is planning "Trails at Southpoint": 164 residences on 28 acres currently zoned Residential Rural, meaning no more than three houses per two acres. On the south and west, the
site abuts Corps of Engineers land in the Jordan Lake watershed.
Trails at Southpoint, too, has met resistance, both from the planning department – which concluded that it is incompatible with the neighborhood’s existing rural character – and from neighbors themselves who want their peace and quiet undisturbed.
When its applications for rezoning and a change in the land-use plan came up for a Planning Commission hearing in May, developers’ attorney Ken Spaulding asked for and got a two-month continuance “to meet again with neighbors.”
“What justification is there to increase the density on this site, other than for the developer to make more money?” wrote homeowner Ahamd Zarea in an email to City Council members earlier this month. Zarea was one of the residents who spoke against the project at the May hearing.
“Plans are supposed to provide a blueprint for future development and we neighbors depend on them while making the most important economic decisions of our lives,” Zarea wrote. “Why then are the plans so thoughtlessly discarded whenever a developer wants to make more money?”
The hearing resumes at the Planning Commission meeting July 10.
Both the 751 South and Trails at Southpoint sites lie close to the congested N.C. 54-I-40 traffic corridor where Durham and Chapel Hill hope to manage heavy development pressure to keep road congestion from becoming worse than it is now.