A developer the City Council left in limbo in November – but with a bill for extra taxes – gets another hearing at the council’s meeting Monday night.
The case of Southpoint Trails, a proposed 164-unit townhouse development near The Street at Southpoint mall, is back with a critical rezoning request.
Three months ago, the council approved the developer’s request for annexation into the city but denied his associated request for a land-use plan amendment and left the rezoning undecided and unheard after three tied votes.
“This is a tough one, to be honest with you,” said designer George Stanziale, who has been the spokesman for Florida developer Jeff Gelman, who bought the 28-acre site in 2006.
Gelman’s property lies on the west side of N.C. 751, between Massey Chapel Road and Stagecoach Road, with St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church to the north and Army Corps of Engineers land to the south and west.
The location is a big part of the problem, Stanziale said. Neighbors who originally had issues about the project have been satisfied and stated their support for it, but in the November hearing council members raised concerns about traffic and the overall future of Durham south of Interstate 40.
“Even though this project is modest in size, the precedent is important,” Councilman Steve Schewel said at the time.
Southern Durham in general and the N.C. 751 corridor in particular have become a politically sensitive area, first due to Southpoint mall’s construction in the 1990s and more recently due to the five-year-old controversy over the proposed 1,300-home mixed-use 751 South project a mile and a half south of Southpoint Trails.
Durham’s long-range land-use plan envisions development density decreasing with distance from the city center. Currently, the Southpoint Trails site is designated and zoned for no more than four homes per acre. The developer wants it rezoned for 6.04 per acre.
“I believe the current density is appropriate,” said Councilwoman Diane Catotti, who voted against the land-use change in November. The 111 units “currently allowed seems like a significant and reasonable number,” she said.
Stanziale said the difference between what is allowed and what is asked is “almost imperceptible.” But after several other higher-density projects have been approved near Southpoint and N.C. 751, some citizens and officials have said the site-by-site plan amendments and rezonings are undermining the long-range plan adopted in 2005.
“I completely understand why you do a comprehensive plan and what it’s used for,” Stanziale said. “But things change.” Density, he said, is key to the transit-friendly, “smart-growth,” “sustainable” sort of development planners, many citizens and the local governments support.
“Yet we tend to be afraid of the word ‘density,’ “ he said.Changing times
In 2012, the Southpoint Trails proposal prompted Durham Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Beechwood to call for a comprehensive study of the 751 corridor to produce a “long-term” plan for its land. More recently, Schewel and Councilman Don Moffitt have said they favor rethinking the current land-use plan for southern Durham in light of development pressure and changed circumstances on the ground.
“We need to be making decisions for today, we need to be making decisions for next year but we also need to be keeping in mind where our children and grandchildren are going to be,” said Moffitt, who took over the seat of departed Councilman Mike Woodard in January.
But Southpoint Trails is going to be at the City Council Monday night. Stanziale said the developer is prepared to make road improvements to alleviate the traffic concerns raised in November, but how the council will feel about density remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Gelman has taxes due he hadn’t expected.
Under city policy, requests for annexation and utility connection, for land-use plan changes and for rezoning of land outside the city limits are considered at one time, as packages, but require three separate votes.
Gelman was billed and has paid $24,751.63 in 2012 county taxes on the Southpoint Trails property. His applications came to the council as a package, but the council approved one, denied one and left one hanging. Nevertheless, with annexation approved, he got bills for $9,620.91 in extra taxes since his property was then inside the city limits – even though his development’s future was still hanging.
“They sort of pulled the trigger too quickly,” Stanziale said. He said Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell is “trying to work it out with the county,” which controls the tax office. Chadwell could not be reached for comment.
“If we’re successful (Monday night), it’s a non-issue,” Stanziale said. “But the issue was, gosh, we haven’t even finished the hearings yet and you’re already taxing me?”