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Townhouses coming to historic district outside downtown Durham

Durham proposing higher density to ease housing concerns

Durham housing is in demand, especially downtown, and city leaders are considering opening up the zoning to allow much more of it. Some neighborhoods want housing density vote delayed to allow further study.
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Durham housing is in demand, especially downtown, and city leaders are considering opening up the zoning to allow much more of it. Some neighborhoods want housing density vote delayed to allow further study.

New townhouses are coming to a historic district just outside downtown Durham.

A century-old property that takes up a block will get the kind of urban-tier, infill development that city leaders say Durham needs to meet housing demand in and around downtown.

The Durham City Council approved a zoning-map change Monday night to allow townhouses to be built on about three acres at Morehead Avenue, Vickers Avenue, Procter Street and Shepherd Street. The Morehead Hill neighborhood of large homes — some now used as offices — is a local historic district.

Robert Shunk of Stewart Inc. applied for the change to allow 17 new townhouses called Morehead Hill Townhomes to be built along Vickers Avenue.

The Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission both supported the project, which includes relocating another house, at 1012 Vickers Ave., to the corner of Proctor and Shepherd streets and modifying the house at 707 Morehead Ave. The latter property last sold in 2015 for $1.1 million.

Morehead Hill, established in 1879, is a historically affluent neighborhood of large homes. The historic district is bordered by the West End area and the Durham Freeway. It is also in the urban tier, the target area for the planning department’s Expanding Housing Choices initiative, though that plan for greater density is under revision and will come back to the Durham Planning Commission later this spring.

Old trolley neighborhood

According to neighborhood history, Morehead Hill was an early Durham suburb connected to downtown by the trolley system.

The mansion at 707 Morehead Ave. was built in 1911 and is known as the Victor Bryant House, according to Open Durham. It had most recently been used as a brain rehabilitation center, but has been vacant for about three years. The renovation will turn the house into two residences, said Ken Spaulding, who represents the developer. Spaulding said they met with neighbors over the past two years as they planned the redevelopment. No one opposed the zoning map change on Monday.

Council member DeDreana Freeman, who previously served on the Durham Planning Commission, said she appreciates when a developer “makes room and time for neighbors,” which is not required. Freeman said they need to work collectively to support increased density “in a way that’s going to include everyone.”

According to the Bryant, Lewis & Lindsley law firm, three generations of Victor Bryants were attorneys in Durham. Victor S. Bryant served as the city attorney and drafted a new city charter in 1899. He and his son Victor Bryant Sr. both served in the state legislature, according to the law firm, and Victor Bryant Jr. also joined the firm. Bryant Jr. died in 2001.

The house at 1012 Vickers Avenue, a Colonial built in 1924, will be moved to the other side of the property, still on the same block. That property last sold for $1.1 million in 2015.

The developer will also give $20,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Any later changes to plans would need to be approved by the historic preservation commission.

Council member Charlie Reece said he was glad the developer reached consensus with neighbors before coming to the council for approval.

Durham housing is in demand, especially downtown, and city leaders are considering opening up the zoning to allow much more of it. Some neighborhoods want housing density vote delayed to allow further study.

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