The City Council delayed a vote on a controversial proposal Monday night to give developers one more chance to win over opponents of their 300-unit development in western Durham.
The 5-2 vote continued to Nov. 21 the public hearing on a rezoning that would allow PulteGroup, one of America's largest home-building companies, to build the development on four parcels that total 83 acres between Berini Drive and Interstate 85 South.
Patrick Byker, an attorney representing PulteGroup, asked the City Council for the delay because developers are working “diligently” with the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association to come up with a stormwater plan that is “second to none,” he said.
Pulte wants to meet with neighbors and explain the improvements they are proposing for the traffic and the environment. Streams on the property feed into the headwaters of the Ellerbe Creek, which flows into Falls Lake.
More than 100 people attended the Monday night meeting, wearing red in protest to the proposal that PulteGroup said would offer a variety of lot sizes and price points. Opponents in the Berini and Waterford neighborhoods said the proposal will have double the density of their neighborhoods.
“This is simply not consistent with our neighborhood,” said Frances Mock.
The development would also increase traffic on the two-lane Berini Road and the nearby Cole Mill Road and pollute Ellerbe Creek with stormwater run off, opponents said.
Berini Drive and Cole Mill Road are operating at 14 percent and 60 percent of its capacity, according to a city transportation study.
“To accommodate growth we have infill on one hand and sprawl on the other,” Byker said. “This project is an infill opportunity.”
Mayor Bill Bell and council members Cora Cole-McFadden, Jillian Johnson and Steve Schewel voted in favor of delaying the decision. They asked neighbors to give developers one more chance to address concerns on open land that is fading fast within the city while housing demand increases.
Council members Don Moffitt and Charlie Reece voted against delaying the decision after opponents said they didn’t feel like it would help.
Neighbors and Chris Dreps, executive director of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, said a delay was a waste of time.
The proposal clear cuts trees, mass grades the soils and will cover 50 percent of the area with impervious surface, Dreps said.
“We are not here against all development,” Dreps said. “But Pulte Homes’ approach is right out of the 1990s.”
Mock and others said they have met with PulteGroup representatives dozens of times over the past year. In June the Durham Planning Commission voted 11-0 against the rezoning. The hearing before the City Council was then delayed twice after a local publication failed to run required advertising for the public hearing. Despite the delays, Neighbors said PulteGroup representatives asked them at 5 p.m. Wednesday to a last-minute Thursday meeting to discuss the changes.
During the meeting, neighbors had questions that Byker said he couldn’t answer for his client and would have to get back with more information, which he never did, Mock said.
Mock and others said their frustration is furthered with the idea of the proposal returning back before the council during the week of Thanksgiving when some will be out of town.