These Southwest Durham parents don’t want a light-rail yard by their school, homes

A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop.
A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop. Contributed

A group of Durham elementary school parents are “greatly troubled” about GoTriangle’s plans for a light-rail yard near their homes and school in southwest Durham.

They plan to ask the Durham City Council to deny a rezoning of 25 acres Monday night that would let the light-rail operations and maintenance facility be built along Farrington Road near Interstate 40.

When the planned 17.7-mile light rail project is built in Durham and Chapel Hill, it will need a place where train cars can be worked on and parked. The planned location is in the city of Durham, just across the line from Chapel Hill and near Interstate 40, neighborhoods and Creekside Elementary School. The council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday (Dec. 3) at City Hall.

“I’m greatly troubled, as are many Creekside folks,” said Andrew Johnson, a father of three. Two of his children are Creekside students and a third will start kindergarten there next year.

“I understand it’s right in between Durham and Orange, but putting an industrial rail yard within a quarter-mile of a school is just unacceptable,” he said. “Durham has plenty of industrial zones — this is not one of them for a reason.”

Mayor Steve Schewel has said opponents of the rail operations and maintenance facility location will have at least 30 minutes to tell council members what they think about it.

The Durham Planning Commission, an advisory board appointed by the council and county commissioners, did not recommend the rezoning, splitting 4-4.

The facility would be open all the time and have light-rail administration offices, rail car maintenance and storage space.

The rail-yard opposition comes as Federal Transit Administration officials were in Durham this week, and as Duke University has raised renewed concern about the project’s route along Erwin Road, in front of Duke University Hospital..

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For Johnson, who lives in Prescott Place off Farrington Road, the issue is more than just the planned rail yard’s location near a school.

He doesn’t want to hear the noises coming from a facility that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And he wonders about potential hazardous materials at the site. He thinks property values will drop, too.

What Creekside Elementary parents are saying

Kelly Reilly said she can’t think of a benefit to living near a maintenance facility.

“I think it’s fair to say that a ROMF [rail operations and maintenance facility] does not work for any residential community,” Reilly said.

“We are one of the families who will get hit by a double-whammy if the ROMF is built on Farrington Road. Our children attend Creekside Elementary, and our home backs up to Farrington Road. My husband and I are concerned that [we] would never get a return on the investment in our house, which is our only real asset,” she said.

Opponents started a Change.org petition against the ROMF. More than 160 people had signed it as of noon Wednesday.

Chip Sudderth, spokesman for Durham Public Schools, said the school system was not deeply involved in the site selection process for light rail or the railyard.

“Transit planners have been in touch with us with technical questions since the decision was made and we are confident that if concerns arise we will have open lines of communication with them,” Sudderth said.

What GoTriangle says

GoTriangle released an 8-page question and answer list about the ROMF rezoning this month.

It said because the facility would be open 24/7, staff would arrive and leave at various times preventing heavy traffic at peak times.

The project would add a turning lane on Farrington Road into the facility and two exit lanes. The main entrance would be on Farrington Road at Ephesus Church Road. Farrington Road will also be widened to add a five-foot bike lane.

The facility’s schedule would bring many light-rail cars to the site around 7:30 p.m. to be cleaned and repaired if needed, with repairs inside the building, according to GoTriangle. Light-rail cars would begin to leave the facility around 4 a.m., according to GoTriangle.

LRT station photo1
A GoTriangle illustration of a Durham-Orange Light Rail stop. GoTriangle Contributed

Farrington Road was chosen from five potention ROMF sites in February 2016 as having the least environmental impact. Others were at Leigh Village, Patterson Place, Cornwallis Road and Alston Avenue.

Rhonda Woodell lives in Prescott Place, one of the neighborhoods, along with Culp Arbor and Trenton, close to the rail yard site. Woodell’s daughter, who has sensory integration disorder, goes to Creekside Elementary, “so she would never get a break from the noise,” she said.

“The thought of Durham allowing the ROMF to be built on Farrington Road makes me sick,” Woodell said. “When we moved into this house, we had planned on staying here until we needed to downsize. I am so concerned about the effects of the ROMF on the value of my largest asset. My husband and I have discussed the fact that we would have to move, but we are so concerned about how much we would lose,” she said.

Woodell said the rail yard does not support Durham Public Schools’ strategic plan goal to “provide a safe school environment that supports the whole child.”

Another Creekside parent, Nikki Lowe, said she wants City Council members to think about how they would feel if it were near their homes.

“While I appreciate leadership supporting the light rail, I think they have been neglectful in realizing the impact that putting the maintenance facility near Creekside would be,” Lowe said.

Lowe said when they moved into their house four years ago, it was everything she wanted — on a cul-de-sac with lots of kids and easy access to all their favorite spots. She worries the council will approve the rezoning.

The city posts meeting agendas here: durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-4

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