The city’s plan for slowing traffic on West Club Boulevard survived another challenge from the neighborhood, this time at the Board of Adjustment.
West Club homeowner Sasha Berghausen had appealed the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of a “certificate of appropriateness” (COA) for the plan, which involves removing 14 mature oak trees.
He claimed the preservation commission had misinterpreted city COA guidelines and that destroying the trees would adversely affect the value of his property.
The board, though, was won over by Senior City Attorney Don O’Toole’s argument that Berghausen lacked legal standing to file the appeal.
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“That’s it,” Board of Adjustment Chairman George Kolasa said Tuesday, after a unanimous decision that followed more than an hour and a half of discussion.
Berghausen can still appeal the board’s ruling to Superior Court. He said after the vote that he has not decided whether to do that or not but that does intend to keep opposing the city traffic-calming plan.
“Opposition needs to be mounted at every turn,” he said.
Berghausen, an architect, and other residents of the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood had turned out in opposition at the Historic Preservation Commission, which devoted several hours over two meetings to the traffic-calming plan.
The plan involves extending the curb at five intersections. City traffic engineer Jeff Lecky said extensions, by narrowing vehicles’ travel lanes, create a “visual obstruction” that encourage drivers to slow down.
Extensions also give pedestrians and drivers waiting to cross Club Boulevard a better view of oncoming traffic. But constructing them requires taking down 14 trees and, despite the city’s intention to replace them, spoil the tree canopy that is part of the century-old neighborhood’s historic character.
“The destruction of those elements destroys the character of my neighborhood. That detracts from the value of my home,” Berghausen said.
O’Toole maintained that the traffic-calming plan would, if anything, raise values by improving safety.
The city’s argument hinged on a point of state law regarding appeals of “quasi-judicial” decisions such as that made by the preservation commission. Essentially, Berghausen lacked standing because he could show no special adverse effect of the tree cutting.
“He has to show that he has specific damages different from everybody else,” assistant Durham County Attorney Brian Wardell said in summarizing the issues involved before the board’s vote.
Even with the Board of Adjustment decision, traffic calming on West Club Boulevard remains a project on paper. No money has been appropriated for implementing it, and the City Council has yet to issue a go-ahead.
“The traffic-calming plan still has a long way to go,” Berghausen said. “We can bring to bear a large number of people who don’t understand the folly and the certainty of ruining the street, at great expense.”