Published: Jul 24, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 23, 2012 02:34 PM
With development pressure rising again in southern Durham, and emotion with them, Planning Commissioner Barbara Beechwood has floated the idea of a “corridor study for N.C. 751” like the one just finished for nearby N.C. 54.
“N.C. 751 is not being looked at in a long-term way,” Beechwood said. “It calls for corridor planning, and it probably should have taken place 10 years ago.”
Beechwood proposed the idea after the Planning Commission voted 8-5 to recommend approval for the 164-townhouse Southpoint Trails subdivision earlier this month – even though the project was inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan.
Beechwood voted “no” and said Southpoint Trails demonstrates the sort of “parcel by parcel” decision-making that an informed consensus on the corridor’s future could avoid – along with the kind of “polarization” seen with the 751 South project a mile south of Southpoint Trails.
“She certainly makes a well-reasoned argument,” said Leta Huntsinger, project manager for the N.C. 54-I-40 Corridor Study.
“It’s a neat idea and definitely worth having some conversation about,” said City Councilman Mike Woodard, a member of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization’s transportation advisory group.
On the other hand, some don’t see much point.
“I am thoroughly disillusioned with planning efforts in Durham,” said Steve Bocckino, a south-Durham homeowner who formed Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Everywhere to oppose the Southpoint shopping mall in the 1990s.
“I think plans are a cynical waste of time and taxpayers’ money unless the elected officials stick with them – and they don’t,” he said.
Beechwood compared her proposal to the N.C. 54-I-40 Corridor Study that Durham and Chapel Hill commissioned, spending $350,000 and requiring almost three years of research, planning, presentations, comments and re-planning before the MPO adopted it last spring.
What Beechwood has in mind would be on a smaller scale, but necessarily involve similar issues.
Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Census tracts that include southern N.C. 54 saw 50 percent population growth – 12,712 to 19,041. Twenty years ago, the southern stretch of N.C. 751 was a quiet country road carrying about 1,800 vehicles a day below Stagecoach Road according to a 2009 MPO study ( bit.ly/OTCnjt
). By 2005, the number was up to 8,200 vehicles a day, but the current transportation plan includes improvements at only one intersection there through 2035.
Still, Durham Planning Director Steve Medlin was skeptical about Beechwood’s proposal.
“I respect her opinion,” Medlin said, but the 54-40 study was “quite elaborate, quite expensive” and made no changes in administrative procedure. “It just simply gave some guidance to our decision makers to consider,” he said.
Beechwood, just appointed for a second three-year term on the Planning Commission, said she’s not sure herself how useful or feasible a 751 corridor study would be, but it could uplift future debates about it.
“We learned a lot” in the 54-40 study, “and there is a lot of educating to be done,” she said, just so the public understands the issues and the language involved – “transit-oriented development” or “conservation subdivision,” for example. Without understanding, opinions are formed by emotions, she said.
“I think we can do better,” Beechwood said.