DURHAM — Citizen and City Council preferences are routing the West Ellerbe Creek Trail through the courthouse.
The decision isn’t made, but conversation in last week’s work session favored a plan for the 1.2-mile greenway that could require condemnation proceedings over a less-expensive alternative that would require winning “hearts and minds” of a neighborhood.
Promoted for years by greenway enthusiasts, a city priority since 2008, the project has a federal earmark of more than $1 million. The trail would link Westover Park in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood with the main stem of Durham’s 90-plus-mile trail system.
The planned route runs under Interstate 85 and along the creek, past Costco and the North Pointe Apartments to link with the North-South Greenway at Stadium Drive. The catch is, two property owners along the way are not interested in selling the easements required across their land.
A main reason, said Brett Pulliam of the city’s General Services Department, is that the owners of the Bed, Bath and Beyond shopping center and Costco land already donated easements, back in the 1990s. The catch is, since then the creek has meandered to a new course and the old easements are now in buffer zones where new water-quality rules prohibit any construction.
Faced with a dilemma, project designers came up with a different route: taking the greenway along Guess Road and through the Forest Road cul-de-sac to Broad Street, then continuing up Broad to Stadium Drive in what engineer Iona Thomas described as “a bicycle-pededstrian type boulevard.”
Anticipating difficulty with different property owners, engineers presented a similar choice in 2011: one route along Broad Street and another close to the creek. Respondents to a city survey favored the scenic creekside route 4 to 1, and when city staffers presented the new alternative and the condemnation option to the Open Space and Trails Commission in December, condemnation got solid support.
Neighborhoods, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association have also stated support for the creekside route – “a broad range of folks,” said trail supporter Larry Brockman.
According to General Services, with the federal money the creekside route is estimated to cost the city about $516,000, the Forest Road route about $337,000. Forest Road uses primarily existing right-of-way, and avoids some complicated construction – and the costs of litigation. Nevertheless –
“The creek alignment would be nicer and more private and off street and more appealing,” said Councilwoman Diane Catotti, and Councilman Steve Schewel said a trail along heavily traveled Broad Street would be “just not as pleasant.”
Councilman Don Moffitt was concerned about the opinions of Forest Road residents, who have not yet been consulted about having an influx of cyclists, runners and strollers going by their front yards.
Council members deferred a decision until after consulting city attorneys behind closed doors, perhaps next week.