Durham seeks a balance between growth and preservation

Donna Frederick has lived in his dark brick home in the Colonial Village housing estate for nearly 20 years.

Frederick retired last year after owning and operating the now-closed Playhouse toy store on Ninth Street after more than a dozen years. She enjoys strolling through the wooden garden plots in her front yard before sitting down with a cup of tea on the porch of her home.

She used to take advantage of the shade offered by the massive oaks, magnolias and pines that stood on her neighbour’s neighboring property. But in February, the developers who bought the land demolished the house and the garage before cutting down the hardwoods.

These trees were lost as part of an initiative Durham City Council members approved several years ago in an effort to increase density to meet demand for additional housing. In 2019, council members, by a vote of 6 to 1, amended the city’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) in hopes of eliminating the decades-old remnants of discrimination that have prevented generations of African Americans to own homes and amass wealth.

The update, known as Expanding Housing Choices (EHC), changes zoning rules in neighborhoods closer to downtown to allow for higher density, which city planners and of the county, is key to stabilizing housing prices as the city grows.

But now some community members believe the city’s EHC plan had the unintended effect of fueling the gentrification and displacement that is occurring in neighborhoods that had “natural affordable housing,” also known as ” NOAH “.

Nate Baker, a town planner who sits on Durham’s planning commission, described EHC as a “missed opportunity” during its formative stages that could have enabled the city to retain its affordable housing stock.

“The EHC does the opposite of that,” Baker told the INDIA Last week. “It stimulates further gentrification and displacement, to some extent.”

But City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson told the INDIA it has not seen evidence of gentrification as a result of the EHC initiative. She pointed to a late 2020 letter presented to city council that said 50 related permit applications had been submitted to the city’s county planning department.

“I don’t think that volume is enough to have been a driver of gentrification,” Johnson said in an email. “Developers don’t need EHC to build expensive single-family homes on less than two acres of land. They could do it before EHC and can do it now.

Among the trees felled by the developer next to Frederick’s property was a giant oak tree that stood in his former neighbor’s front yard, as well as a massive magnolia and several pines. Shortly after the oak was knocked down, Frederick posed next to the fallen hardwood. Frederick is approximately 5 feet 4 inches tall. The top of the chest reached his chest.

“That’s how wide he was,” Frederick told the INDIA. “It was a big oak tree. You couldn’t put your arms around him.

A planning permit filed with the Durham Planning Department in January shows that the developer, Hayes Barton Homes, is using a small plot plan to build four two-storey single-family homes on land that covers less than two acres. The building permit application, which has been approved by the city, also shows plans for the replanting of two trees on each lot.

“These are not starter homes for most people,” Frederick told the INDIA. “The developer says the houses will sell for $350,000.”

For Frederick, living on a fixed income and facing the prospect of rising property taxes is one thing. But she points to a set of ongoing construction issues related to affordability, health, environmental impact and the city’s ordinance that allows builders to build homes on less than two acres of land. land without the contribution of community members.

Now, with the absence of trees that have shaded his home for decades, Frederick wonders what the impact will be when the weather warms up, especially in the summer months.

As the INDIA previously reported, lack of forest cover in low-income communities leads to higher temperatures that fuel high utility costs and a higher incidence of health problems.

As she stood in her yard last month, Frederick pointed out the downward slope of the land on East Club Boulevard. She believes that without tree root systems to hold water from heavy rains, combined with the impermeable surfaces that characterize home construction, stormwater runoff and sedimentation will flow into nearby Ellerbe Creek.

Frederick also thinks developers are taking advantage of what she describes as “a loophole” in the city’s ordinance that exempts them from hearing neighbors’ concerns if they’re building on land under two acres.

In an email to INDIABo Dobrzenski, deputy director of the city and county planning department, says state law exempts private land “that does not exceed two acres in total from the subdivision construction review process.” [divided] in three batches at most.

Dobrzenski added that the Durham UDO “imposes this exemption”.

“There is no site plan review or preliminary plan submission required for a subdivision with fewer than six new lots,” Dobrzenski said.

The planning department official also noted that exemptions have been in place statewide and locally “for many years.”

Regarding the wholesale tree removal that took place on Colonial Village property, Dobrzenski says the city’s UDO also “does not require tree cover for projects under two acres”.

Allen Wells, founder and owner of Hayes Barton Homes in Raleigh, told the INDIA that he’s “trying to do the right thing and build affordable housing because there’s a great need, and I haven’t done anything but grieve.”

“No good deed goes unpunished,” he adds.

Wells says his company did everything the city required for him to receive a building permit.

“I did all the things the law requires me to do,” he says.

“It’s not illegal, but it’s unethical,” Frederick says.

She thinks the builder will replace hardwoods that have stood for decades next door with landscaping trees — crepe myrtle, perhaps.

“The builder says he will replant trees and hedges, but hedges are not trees,” she said.

She pointed to the nearly half a dozen young cherry trees in black plastic buckets she plans to plant this spring and lamented the loss of hardwoods that had stood next to them for decades.

“It was the shade of the trees for my house,” she says. “It will take 20 years to recover that.”

“The city encourages multi-density housing. I understand,” Frederick said. “I understand that $350,000 is the average house price in Durham. There’s one just around the corner that sells for $700,000. The problem is that the people who live here have to leave the [town] where they work.”

Frederick wants the city council to step in and force developers of small residential projects to seek input from neighborhood residents in the same way as if they were working on a large development.

According to documents filed August 4 with the County Deeds Registry, Weitz Real Estate of Durham purchased the house next to Frederick from former owner Ronald Dexter Cates, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Frederick says she contacted the new owner of the house and Tyler Weitz visited her the next day.

Frederick says Weitz walked the grounds with her and seemed to understand her concern for preserving the tree canopy in the neighborhood. Frederick says Weitz told him the plan was to build two houses on the land and preserve the property’s magnolias, oaks and pines.

Last week, Weitz told the INDIA that Frederick contacted her after the house was removed, and says he thinks “Frederick’s criticisms were entirely fair”, and he apologized to her “for the lack of notice regarding my projects”.

But on November 12 last year, Tyler Weitz sold the property to Hayes Barton Homes for $316,000, according to records filed with the County Durham Deeds Registry Office.

Frederick says the new developer, who specializes in custom homes, “decided to build four treeless homes.”

“Those of us who live in the community have wondered, ‘How can he cut down trees, and without us having a say? INDIA.

Frederick says she understands Durham leaders have decided to increase Bull City’s housing stock “by any means necessary”.

“You can’t stop gentrification,” she says. “But the city says one thing and does nothing. It’s unfortunate. It’s not a builders problem. This is a North Carolina General Assembly issue. There is no incentive for builders to build $100,000 homes.

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