Some Trinity Height residents are concerned about the loss of majestic trees on Duke’s East Campus and the long-term impact of the softball field that will replace them.
“Duke University has a right to do any type of thing that it wants to do with its own private property,” said resident David Bowden. “The issue is that what Duke University does on its own property can have a dramatic material impact on the surrounding community.”
Specifically, Bowden and others are concerned about the loss of what appear to be healthy trees, along with the noise, lighting, parking and traffic during and after the construction of a softball stadium with indoor batting cages, a locker room and 500 seats on a section of East Campus near the neighborhood that borders West Markham Avenue.
Josh Hawn, president of Trinity Heights Neighborhood Association, said residents are also frustrated with how Duke officials have handled informing them.
“The university has worked closely with the Trinity Heights Neighborhood Association to both keep them informed and minimize the impact during construction and as the stadium is used,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, in a statement.
To reduce its visual presence, Schoenfeld wrote, the field will be built into the hillside and set 250 feet from the street. The scoreboard will face away from the street and the field lights will be hooded.
“A number of the older trees, including many that are at the end of their normal lives, will be removed for the stadium, but they will be replaced by a comprehensive landscape design that will that enhance a part of East Campus that has been neglected for many years,” he wrote. “Duke will help fund traffic-calming measures along West Markham Avenue and Green Street, though it is up to the City of Durham to conduct the study.”
The university will also work with the neighborhood association and the city to develop a plan for game-day parking and install the appropriate signage to minimize the impact of game-day parking on residents.
Hawn is skeptical.
“They have been open and have communicated with us, but we haven’t seen any results,” he said.
Trinity Heights has about 150 homes in the area bordered by Green Street and West Markham Avenue on the north and south. North Buchanan Boulevard and Broad Street serve as borders on the east and west.
Hawn said they learned about the project in November via a press release, which “obviously caused a lot of frustration that we had never been approached about it.”
Hawn met in January with Phail Wynn, vice president for Durham and Regional Affairs. While promises were made about Duke funding some traffic measures, there hasn’t been any information shared about those plans.
“Despite repeated requests, we have not been involved in that process,” Hawn said.
Bill Judge, a transportation engineer with the city, said a traffic calming study would follow a request made by the neighborhood or a third party.
As of Friday afternoon, no request has been submitted, Judge said.
Trinity Heights residents met with the Duke construction team about two weeks ago.
“It was pretty clear from that discussion that they had not thought about any of the concerns that we had brought up,” Hawn said. There was no planned parking for construction vehicles. Residents asked for sound and light baselines to be established before construction started, so they could compare after it was completed.
“That has not been done,” he said.
Hawn said they would have made a bigger deal about the trees, but by the time they learned about them, the project was already set.
Many of the homes in the urban neighborhood don’t have driveways, which means residents compete for parking with people walking the track at East Campus and attending events at Baldwin Auditorium. When Baldwin Auditorium, an East Campus arts venue that seats 685, has events, related parking fills up two or three streets in Trinity Heights, Hawn said.
The neighborhood has become an “an off campus parking lot,” he said.
Hawn said they are also concerned about construction trucks driving down and crossing the two-lane residential street – already strained by traffic – and construction workers parking trucks in the neighborhood, along with related noise. Post construction, they are worried about parking during games, the lights and the noise.
No new parking was provided with the Duke Softball field, but there is an adjacent existing lot with about 50 spaces off Brodie Gym Drive, said Patrick Young, an assistant director with the Durham City-County Planning Department.
In October 2003, the Durham City Council approved a master rezoning of the Duke University campus. The zoning for the university college district allows officials to look at the parking holistically versus for individual elements.
“What they are required to do is to show they have enough parking to meet their overall need, and they have done that,” Young said. “I can’t sit here and say that every event would be fully accommodated on campus; that is not the criteria that we hold them to.”
The site plan for the construction was approved administratively in May 2016.