The initial discussion centered on whether the city would sell land around a proposed condo development near Durham Central Park.
But Mayor Bill Bell turned it into a discussion about leveraging the request and using it to bring more affordable housing in downtown.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way that we are really going to get affordable units into the downtown area with projects like this, the only leverage we have is when the city is being asked to do something,” Bell said at Thursday’s City Council work session.
Lambert Development Hunt Street wants to build a 35-unit condominium project at 400 Hunt St., adjacent to Central Park. The project sits on the corner of Hunt and Roney streets.
The company is proposing to pay $150,630 for two tracts totaling 2,836 square feet, along with two four-foot-wide air rights easements for balconies, one five-foot-wide easement for the building’s foundation, a 20-foot permanent fire separation easement and a 25-foot temporary construction easement.
The deal would include Lambert replacing about 100 feet of sewer line adjacent to the property.
“We feel like the creation of 35 additional units will provide additional park users, folks to keep an eye on the park 24-7, which has been sorely missed since the Liberty Warehouse has been unpopulated,” said development representative Dan Jewel, president of the Durham-based landscape architecture and civil engineering firm Coulter Jewell Thames.
The project was initially proposed and approved about seven years ago as a phase two of another project. But that was not a feasible project for the developer to build, and Lambert Development now has the project under contract. Central Park’s board voted not to object to the project.
If the council wants to move forward, it would declare the property surplus and it would be subject to a bid process. If Lambert acquired the city property, then it would move forward with finalizing the purchase of the private property. Jewel said he expected condos to sell from the high $200,000s to larger units above $500,000.
Bell said the proposal looks to be a great project
“I’m comfortable with what has been presented and what is being proposed, personally,” he said. “What I am not comfortable with is the fact that I don’t see any opportunities right now for affordable units in that development.”
Bell said he doesn’t see the city creating affordable housing through tools in the zoning laws, but rather by leveraging situations when the city is being asked for something.
So, in an effort to make that happen, Bell suggested that the city buy four of the condos and offer then as affordable units to families.
Bell suggested that the city buy the condos, using money from the city’s one-cent property tax dedicated to affordable housing, which brings in about $2.4 million annually.
“We have to start somewhere, and for me this is place to start,” Bell said.
Councilman Don Moffitt said he thought the proposal was a great idea, and there is a lot to be thought about.
Councilman Steve Schewel said the idea is worth talking about. He has initial concerns about whether the city should invest its limited funds in expensive condos and also thinks the developers should pitch in more.
“I’m interested in the details. I’m listening, but it doesn’t strike me as the best use of our affordable housing (dollars),” Schewel said.
Bell said they could work out the details, which might include a family paying a subsidized rent, but “it is something I would like us to seriously explore.”
Next steps include city staff going back and exploring what can be negotiated with the developer, said City Manager Tom Bonfield.
Then city staff will then bring back the results of that process back to the council, he said.