Bennie Reams pulled out his phone to show a video of traffic making its way down two-lane Ellis Road at 6:45 p.m. on a recent evening.
“In 90 seconds, 38 vehicles come past my house,” said Reams, who lives on Ellis Road. Then he points to his driveway on the video to show how hard it is for him to get out. “And this is not peak traffic. Peak traffic there is no break in the cars.”
Reams, along with his mother and uncle, attended Tuesday night’s Durham Planning Commission meeting to express concern about proposed developments that could add up to 546 residences to Ellis Road in southeast Durham.
The Planning Commission recommended approval for one project and postponed a recommendation on another. On both projects, the City Council will make the final decision.
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Commissioners unanimously supported changes needed for a development with up to 500,000 square feet of commercial space and up to 381 upper-level units on nearly 65 acres. The case is set to go before the council Sept. 19.
Horvath Associates made the request for the vacant land north of Ellis Road, west of Miami Boulevard and south of Wrenn Road. The property had received multiple approvals for projects over the past 10 years. The Durham County Board of Commissioners rezoned portions of the site in 2006 and 2008, which would have allowed up to 676 residential units.
The proposal recommended by the commission traded in some of the approved residential for the commercial space on the property, which has been annexed into the city since the county commissioners’ approval.
Committed traffic improvements include installing two more lanes on Ellis Road from N.C. 147 to the development’s main entrance, along with additional turn lanes.
Meanwhile, the planning commission voted 9-3 to postpone its recommendation on another development to the east.
Ellis Road Residential Two LP wants to build a development with up to 165 townhomes on 25 acres. Commissioners voted to postpone the approval for 60 days to give planning staff time to research a design commitment made by developer to build decorative garages with varying designs, windows and carriage accents.
The property is north of Ellis Road, west of Miami Boulevard and south of Cash Road.
Commissioners also expressed concern about the developer still working through the process to obtain right-of-way to build a needed sewer line extension and not having an established development plan.
Durham planner Jacob Wiggins said those details are typically handled at the site-plan stage and the sewer issue is often bundled with an annexation request, which is heading toward the City Council.
Reams lives catty-corner to the proposed townhome development. To the left of his house is Research Triangle School. Across the street from his house is an under-construction apartment building with about 300 units.
The townhome proposal includes commitments to widen Ellis Road to provide a continuous three-lane section with turn lanes to enter the development, along with additional pavement for a future bike lane.
Reams said he is concerned those provisions will not improve the traffic flow, considering the future apartments across the street.
“As of right now, you cannot get out of my driveway from 7 to 9 in the morning and from 4 to 6 in the evenings,” he said.
Laura Holloman, a land planner at Spaulding & Norris, which is helping to design the project, said they are meeting all the city’s requirements.
The latest traffic volume on Ellis Road is 11,000 vehicles in a 24-hour period, below its 12,700 capacity, according to a city report. The proposed development is expected to generate 994 vehicles. Bus service is provided next to the site of the proposed development.
City Transportation Engineer Bill Judge said there would be adequate capacity when the improvements are made. The N.C. Department of Transportation recommends building a bridge for Ellis Road, a state road, over an existing railroad crossing to increase capacity, but no funding is designated.