Durham County

Durham commission rejects rezoning for new subdivision near Brier Creek. What’s next?

The Planning Commission voted against a rezoning Tuesday night for a planned subdivision of up to 616 single-family homes and townhomes near Brier Creek.

The developers, who have been working on the project for about two years, said the current version of the project is their “last shot.”

Their request now goes to the City Council, with the Planning Commission’s 9-4 recommendation against rezoning the 216-acre site from Rural Residential to Planned Development Residential.

The developers, WithersRavenel, had taken the undeveloped land at 1001 Olive Branch Road to the commission in March, at that time getting its endorsement in a 9-2 vote.

But the case also involved an annexation petition, which the City Council rejected in a 4-3 vote. Without annexation, the City Council did not have jurisdiction to act on the zoning case.

The applicant, Arnaldo Echevarria, of WithersRavenel, revised the application, adding 54 housing units after hearing that more density would increase the chances of approval. That took the project back to the Planning Commission.

At one point Tuesday, Commissioner Brian Buzby, who ended up voting against the rezoning, noted that there was no commitment in writing from the developer to multifamily homes.

Echevarria’s lawyer, Randy Herman, said the developers would be willing to pledge to have at least 30% of the homes be townhomes.

The developer also proposed contributing up to $61,600 toward the Durham Public Schools system and up to $77,000 toward the City of Durham Affordable Housing Program.

‘Quite a way to the Walmart’

At 616 units, the project would generate an estimated 3,022 vehicle trips per day and 154 school-age children, or 68 more than would be generated under current zoning, according to agenda materials for Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Nathaniel Baker, who voted against the rezoning, said the project lacked connectivity and needed a maximum average block length to improve walkability.

“If you have a part of your city that doesn’t have very many connections and it has a lot of cul-de-sacs, it’s very difficult to go in afterward and fix that without buying people’s homes and tearing them down, which we just wouldn’t do,” Baker said.

Commissioner Carmen Williams was concerned about storm runoff in a hilly area. “As far as walkability is concerned, it’s still quite a ways to the Walmart,” she said, “so good luck.”

Commissioner Cedric Johnson asked the developers how far the nearest store or shopping center is. Herman said there is a Food Lion on N.C. 98 about 1 1/2 miles away. Brier Creek Shopping Center is 3.7 miles from the proposed development.

Rickie White, executive director of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, told the commission that while the property might not have any endangered species on it, the northern section is a Natural Heritage Site that supports nearby endangered species. He said he would like to have the developers put a conservation easement on that section of the property.

Noting that he would like to get the developer’s pledge to build three miles of trails in writing, Buzby said because so many changes to the plan had been proposed Tuesday, he was thinking about making a motion to continue the decision for 60 days to make sure the wording of everything was right.

“My problem really is that we’ve been going on for about two years,” Chris Simmering of the development team said, “and I’m about to run out of contract time to own it. So, in reality, this is my last shot.”

Simmering said not moving ahead Tuesday meant he would have to build under county standards: two houses per acre.

Voting for the rezoning were Williams, Johnson, Elaine Hyman and David Morgan.

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