Planning commissioners and neighbors gave thumbs up last week to two “infill” projects on long-vacant lots, one at the Old Five Points intersection near downtown and the other on Duke Street north of Interstate 85.
Rezonings to allow the projects – for the time called “North Mangum Residential” and “Circle K at Duke Street” – got the advisory commission’s recommendation for City Council approval, and words of welcome.
“It’s exciting to see investment and redevelopment coming into this part of the community,” Commissioner Brian Buzby said of the North Mangum project, while Commissioner Charlie Gibbs said the Circle K is what “we really need more of in the northern part of Durham.”
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North Mangum Residential involves three parcels fronting North Mangum Street and Glendale Avenue, between Geer Street and the Old Five Points – aka Little Five Points – intersection.
“This is a particularly ignored stretch of North Mangum Street,” landscape architect Dan Jewell said. “Sort of that no man’s land transition” between the reviving downtown to the south and the “grand old houses” to the north in the Old North Durham neighborhood.
Developer Stuart Cullinan, he said, intends to make the three parcels, now vacant except for one house, into “what is called a ‘pocket neighborhood’ ... of single-family lots” that would bring back the block’s one-time residential character.
“You can sort of imagine what it might have looked like 50 years ago, because if you look out there you’ll see there are four old remnant driveway curb cuts off of Mangum Street into this property,” Jewell said. “That’s what we’d like to re-create.”
Tom Tucker, who lives next to the project site, said he approves.
“I bought my house almost seven years ago,” Tucker said. “I’ve had the opportunity to witness pretty much nothing going on on (Mangum Street) for the last seven years.
“Whatever they decide to do on that lot will be a great improvement,” Tucker said.
John Martin of Old North Durham said he and some other members of the neighborhood association’s board have met with the developer.
“We like very much what we are seeing and we think this is an important piece of property. ... It’s right where people come into downtown,” he said.
About four miles north, developer Bob Chapman has plans for the grassy 3.8 acres at the northeast corner of Duke and Frasier streets, between County Stadium and the North Duke Crossing shopping center.
“This site has been essentially a vacant lot for 50 years,” attorney Patrick Byker said, speaking for Chapman’s Traditional Neighborhood Development. The idea, he said, is “a first-class mixed-use development” with “a top-quality convenience store.
“We also expect to have an outstanding Durham-based sit-down restaurant as well as nine to 29 residential units to inject new life into what has become a depressed corner of Durham,” he said.
The word “restaurant” caught Commissioner Linda Huff’s attention.
“I live in north Durham and ... I would love to see a nice restaurant come in,” she said, and residences “would be a vast improvement” over the office buildings for which the property is currently zoned.
“As it is currently zoned, that lot is really no use to anyone,” said Alice Stevens, a homeowner on nearby Newsom Street.
In the immediate area, Byker said, there are 175,000 square feet of vacant office space. “Back in the 1990s, this was a hot corner of Durham,” Byker said. “While downtown, the Duke area, southern Durham have seen strong investment, this part of Durham has seen disinvestment.
“Our project intends to turn that around,” he said.
“It sure would be nice to have some new development,” said John Ralph Wretman, who lives in the Homestead Heights neighborhood across Duke Street.
“This ... is sort of a graying neighborhood. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for young people to move up there as older residents pass along and move out,” he said, and, “If they can show development maybe they can fill these empty offices.”
Commissioner Tom Miller, though, was less than enthusiastic about another convenience store.
“I don’t like the idea of a Circle K here,” Miller said. “I don’t want to see Duke Street, every intersection, wind up with gas stations and convenience stores ... and there’s no guarantee that once you put the zoning in place you’re going to get a business that you like.”
The proposal did have “a saving grace,” though, Miller said. “If it’s designed correctly, it could break up the highway commercial pattern.”