Planners are moving forward with the process to create dense neighborhoods around proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit stations.
Progress stalled this week, however, when the Durham Planning Commission postponed approving high-density districts near seven proposed stations because the group lacked a quorum.
On Tuesday the commission was set to consider endorsing converting areas surrounding the seven stations to “Compact Neighborhood Tiers.” The areas are Leigh Village; Patterson Place; South Square/MLK Jr. Parkway (which has two proposed stations); the Erwin Road area, which has stations near Duke University and the VA Medical Center; and Alston Avenue.
The commission held a public hearing on the Leigh Village changes Tuesday, but was unable to make a recommendation after two of its members left before they could vote. Currently the 14-member commission has one vacant seat. Members Andre Vann, DeDreana Freeman, Calin Riley and Charles Gibbs were absent from the Tuesday meeting. During the course of the meeting, members Linda Huff and Elaine Hyman were excused, leaving the commission without a quorum.
The consideration for the Leigh Village and other areas were postponed until the March 8 meeting.
Overall, the changes seek to update Durham’s Comprehensive Plan, which seeks to guide future development.
The Compact Neighborhood Tier was created to promote high-density development that integrates residential, retail and office spaces within walking distance of proposed transit stations. The Ninth Street area is the only community that is currently deemed a Compact Neighborhood Tier.
Planners have held 12 neighborhood meetings attended by about 600 people who have given input on boundaries and development criteria such as preserving significant environmental features, single-family neighborhoods and avoiding university college zoning districts, said planner Hannah Jacobson.
Once the commission takes a stand on the proposed changes, the City Council and Board of County Commissioners would make the final decision.
If elected leaders approve the tiers, planners would work with residentsto define the specific zoning regulations and land use maps in those areas. Those regulations and maps would then go before the Planning Commission and elected leaders.
During the Leigh Village public hearing Tuesday, residents’ reaction was mixed.
The semi-rural area surrounding the proposed Leigh Village station has remained largely low-density suburban development. But the area in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of N.C. 54 and Interstate 40, has one of the most highly congested transportation corridors in the state, Jacobson said.
Neighbors who supported the change said it would protect the area from piecemeal development, while preserving some the district’s green spaces.
Jared Harris, a property owner within the district, expressed concern that developers would carve out sections of the district during the planning process.
“We think it is extremely important to move forward now to prevent this kind of bad development,” Harris said.
Neighbors against the change expressed concern about the impact on the rural areas in the district. Some also said there hasn’t been enough outreach to neighbors, who may not realize the substantial changes could be coming.
“More communication and more time” is needed, said resident of the district Cheri Hardman.