Durham redevelopment gets council go-ahead

Staff writerApril 7, 2011 

— A special city council meeting on the Rolling Hills/Southside project assumed Biblical proportions this morning, as council members exchanged passages of scripture and finally decided to act on faith.

"Amen," said Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, one of the six council members who voted to go ahead with the project, and the developer, as planned.

The one nay vote came from Councilman Eugene Brown, who likened the project to a house built on sand that was quickly washed away in the Matthew 7 parable.

Councilman Farad Ali, though, countered with a reading from Hebrews 11, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”; and from James 2, “Faith without works is dead.”

The council vote came only after 3 1/2 hours of presentation by Larry Jarvis, assistant community development director, and questions, comments, position statements and holy writ by council members in response.

Their approval itself was a statement of policy; some specifics, including the city's conditional commitment of $9.4 million more to the project and a spending plan for about $2 million in federal community development grants expected for fiscal 2012-13 (subject, as Brown pointed out, to budget cutters in Congress), remain to be discussed and voted on at the council's regular meeting May 2.

Today's vote, though, did endorse a continuing role for the St. Louis firm McCormack Baron Salazar as the project's developer. MBS has managed project planning since 2007 and has devised a $48 million plan that includes 211 new apartments, most for rent to low-income tenants, on the Rolling Hills site at South Roxboro Street and Lakewood Avenue; along with 40 to 45 new or rehabilitated homes for sale to low-income owner occupants in the adjacent Southside neighborhood.

For months, nonprofit agencies and private citizens have raised objections to the project, particularly a financing plan based on borrowing against future federal grants. Jarvis, though, convinced the council that proceeding as planned would bring more benefits than two suggested alternatives: to land-bank the Rolling Hills site while proceeding with housing rehabilitation in Southside, or to let local nonprofits redevelop the Rolling Hills site where two previous developers have failed to complete the residential subdivisions they had proposed.

“In many ways, it’s not a perfect plan, but I believe it is a plan we can move forward with,” said Councilman Mike Woodard, who added a scripture.

“My contribution to our Bible study today is Psalm 127,” he said: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

And Councilman Howard Clement concluded, “Let’s get it on.”

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