Durham plans unique land swap

Durham plans unique land swap

Staff WriterDecember 23, 2004 

A quiet community north of the Eno River might get its first park along with a new middle school, thanks to a unique land swap between the city of Durham and the Triangle Land Conservancy.

The deal, to be considered by the City Council at its Jan. 3 meeting, would give the city 105 acres just southwest of the Little River Reservoir to develop a $9 million complex of eight athletics fields. In exchange, the city would give the nonprofit land trust 58 acres hugging the Little River, bisected by the historic Indian Trading Path, to preserve as open space.

"The land they've got is far more valuable for us, and the land we've got is much more valuable for them," said Beth Timson, a city parks planner.

The land conservancy, which has protected 6,570 acres of the most sensitive lands in the region, has not gained a foothold in Durham until now. On Friday, Bryan Properties of Holly Springs donated about 171 acres to it. The developer is scheduled to donate 74 more in the coming year. A portion of both donations would be used in the land swap.

At the same time, Bryan Properties, a developer of Treyburn, has offered to donate 32 acres next to the city's planned park complex for a new middle school. Durham Public Schools earmarked initial financing for the school in last year's bond referendum to alleviate overcrowding at nearby Carrington and Chewning middle schools.

The city and the school system would share two of the fields, Timson said, along with the costs to run water and sewer service to the Snow Hill Road property. That property is tucked in a residential neighborhood where wells are more common than sidewalks.

Meanwhile, the land conservancy would control 247 acres in the immediate area either by outright ownership or through conservation easements.

Priceless value

Environmentalists note that although the land the city owns is appraised at less than half the value of the land it hopes to trade with the conservancy, its environmental and historic value are priceless. The site is part of an extensive flood plain that links up with the Falls Lake watershed being protected by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Artifacts that go back 5,000 years, such as pottery and spear points, have been unearthed in the immediate area, said Jeff Masten, a director of conservation strategies with the land conservancy. The conservancy plans to develop some of the land as trails.

Timson said the city bought the land before the state adopted stricter conservation regulations. Given the environmental restrictions, the city would have to scale back its development of baseball and multipurpose fields, she said.

Even if the council approves the land transfer, the city still needs to pay for the park's construction, possibly through a larger bond referendum in November. Site development could take up to two years.

Timson acknowledged that it's rare to broker a four-party deal that satisfies everyone. Bryan Properties, which acquired 2,000 acres in Treyburn from the Hawaii-based Bishop Estate last year, is eligible for state and federal tax credits by making the donations.

During the next six to eight years, the developer plans to add as many as 700 single-family homes and townhouses in the immediate area, priced from $200,000 to more than $1 million, said Rosemary Waldorf, a project manager. In addition, Bryan Properties is developing the 1,162-acre Horton Grove Village to the north, though it has not determined what it will look like.

The four planned housing developments will be more desirable in the company of a new park, school and nature preserve, Waldorf said.

Staff writer Margie Fishman can be reached at 956-2405 or mfishman@newsobserver.com.

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