Neighbors fear traffic from proposed Durham apartments

Neighbors protest rezoning for project at N.C. 54, Barbee Road

jwise@newsobserver.comDecember 1, 2012 


Two weeks after reaching indecision on one southern Durham development project, the City Council gets another Monday night.

The developers of Meadows at Southpoint want to put 365 apartments and 150,000 square feet of self-storage units on 49.8 acres at the southeast corner of N.C. 54 and Barbee Road. The tract is vacant, except for a venerable gas station that has, in the words of attorney Ken Spaulding, “encumbered and crowded that corner for decades.”

Spaulding, representing Meadows Land Investment LLC, and engineer George Stanziale say the project would cut traffic congestion by moving entrances and adding fuel pumps.

Some neighbors think it would do just the opposite.

“You may solve one problem, but we believe you are creating another problem that will be as bad,” said George Brine, a Hunter’s Lane homeowner who spoke for his neighborhood when the Durham Planning Commission heard the case in October.

A group of the neighbors has filed a protest petition against a rezoning the project needs to be built. Late last week, City-County Planning Director Steve Medlin was still determining whether the petition was valid. If it is, it would require a “supermajority” – six out of seven council members voting yes – to approve rezoning.

Meadows Land is also asking for a change in the land-use plan and annexation. All three requests are on the council’s Monday agenda, under a recently adopted annexation policy.

Southpoint Trails

Similar requests came before the council at its last meeting, Nov. 19, involving the Southpoint Trails project on N.C. 751. The case revived a long-standing issue of dense development spreading south of Southpoint mall, and a recent issue of piecemeal land-use plan changes to accommodate developers. With one council member absent, the six remaining tied the project up in a series of 3-3 votes and put the whole matter off until next year.

In the Meadows at Southpoint case, objections are practical rather than philosophic.

The nearby roads are already heavily traveled, said Brine, a former Planning Commission chairman. At rush hours, Barbee Road residents have a hard time getting out of their driveways, and the new turn lanes the developer has committed to build aren’t sufficient to handle the additional traffic he anticipates.

And enlarging the gas station, he said, is a bad idea.

“We object to expansion ... from four pumps to 10,” Brine said. “This expansion will be detrimental to the proposed apartments and that the traffic it generates will be detrimental to all of us.”

Planning Commission Chairman Henry Monds said he had concerns about traffic, too. “(They) give me severe heartburn,” he said. The commission, though, voted to recommend that the City Council approve the project’s zoning and land-use plan amendment. The recommendation is not binding.

Neighbors and developers have met six times trying to work out their differences, Spaulding said, and on most points they have reached accommodation. Chad Tate of Hope Creek Road spoke for the project at the Planning Commission hearing.

“Something really big is getting built behind where we live,” Tate said. “I don’t think anybody is real excited about that, but I think the way they’re planning on doing it ... means they’re listening to us.”

With Southpoint mall and its retail surroundings nearby, he said it has been only a matter of time before the open land at N.C. 54 and Barbee Road gets developed.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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