Duke family estate to become expensive townhouses outside downtown Durham

Gentrification in Durham: What is it and where is it

A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.
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A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.

This story was corrected at 8:55 a.m. Dec. 19, 2018.

New townhouses will be built a short distance from downtown Durham, some costing close to $1 million.

A Duke family estate will be turned into denser housing in the affluent Forest Hills neighborhood. Pinecrest, built in 1927 for Mary Duke Biddle, will be renovated into a two-dwelling house, and townhouses will also be built on the land around it. There are nine acres in the estate.

The homes will cost between $700,000 and $950,000 and be built in the Colonial Revival, Federal and Tudor styles like the rest of Forest Hills. The City Council unanimously approved a rezoning for the project Monday night.

Unlike other new developments, this project did not donate any money to the city’s affordable housing fund or the Durham Public Schools system.

Attorney Ken Spaulding, representing the developers, said after reducing the number of homes, they did not have funds to give to the housing fund or school system. Neighbors initially balked at the plans for denser housing, but were happy with changes.

The Planning Commission had voted 9-0 to recommend approval of the rezoning.

Neighbors in Forest Hills asked earlier this year for a neighborhood protection overlay to preserve what some residents see as its neighborhood character of its “quiet, winding streets.” But no neighbors spoke against the rezoning Monday night. Instead, more than a dozen neighbors voiced their support of the project and changes made to reduce the number of homes and have their design work with the rest of the neighborhood.

The rezoning allows for up to 46 homes, but Spaulding said they told Forest Hills neighbors they will build 38.

Josh McCarty lives on Bivins Street a block away from Pinecrest.

“I just wanted to express my support for density and walkable environments in our city,” McCarty said.

John Burness, who lives across the street from Pinecrest on Kent Street, said Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans “would be proud about what would happen to her property.”

Dr. James and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans were members of the third generation of the Duke family and held strong ties to Lincoln Hospital and other community projects. Carolina Times

“She loved Durham,” said Burness, who is Duke University’s former public affairs chief. Trent Semans led the Duke Endowment, was a trustee of Lincoln Community Hospital and served on Durham City Council.

The house was designed by architect George Watts Carr and built for James Orr Cobb. It was later sold to the Duke family, including philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle. Her daughter, Duke heiress Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, lived there until her death in 2012.

April Johnson of Preservation Durham said they supported the project and preservation of the Pinecrest house, which had renovations in the decades after it was built.

The Mary Duke Biddle Estate, on West Forest Hills Boulevard, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

After the death of Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, great-granddaughter of Washington Duke, son James Semans owned the property. Spaulding said Semans died Monday and his wife was glad the project would still move forward.

Larry Pollard has lived two blocks away from Pinecrest for 70 years.

“I’m not afraid of change that will come. I’m confident [this development] will be a positive change not only for our neighborhood, but for the entire city,” Pollard said.

The median price of homes in Durham is $221,700, according to Zillow, the real estate website, and home values have risen 11.7 percent over the past year.

This article has been corrected to show that the Pinecrest estate was built for James Orr Cobb.

Farad Ali, president of The Institute, previously The Institute of Minority Economic Development, believes minorities in Durham have the potential to overcome a wealth gap to achieve "shared prosperity" if the city has a shared vision of the future.

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