Durham rejects townhouse, single-family development near Wake



Pam Andrews, right, holds a water bottle she says was taken from Lick Creek at the Durham City Council meeting on Aug. 15, 2022. Andrews opposed a residential development proposed along Leesville Road and US 70.

City of Durham

In a vote Monday night, Durham City Council rejected a developer’s request to attach a parcel of land in southeast Durham to a 380-home development.

CSC Group, a local firm with a several communities in Durham and Wake counties, hoped to build a mix of townhouses and single-family homes on 117 acres he owns near the intersection of US 70 and Leesville Road.

Members of Preserve Rural Durham appeared to express water quality concerns that had been discussed at length by the council. They argue that development in southeast Durham is polluting Lick Creek with sediment that eventually flows into Falls Lake, where most of Raleigh’s drinking water comes from.

PAM Andrews, the group’s founder, handed out vials of murky red water taken from Lick Creek after the storm to council members before the vote. She called it “tomato soup.”

“Each development is a complete clear-cut and massive clear-cut of our land, leaving red soil filled with nitrates and phosphates to flow into Lick Creek and Little Lick Creek, which are already damaged,” Andrews said. “A rich stream flows with blood-red tomato soup near Falls Lake.”

The City Council ended up deadlocked 3-3, with Councilwoman Jillian Johnson sick.

Mayor Elaine O’Neill and Council members DeDreana Freeman and Monique Halsey-Hyman cited environmental concerns before voting against the annexation.

“There’s no way, shape or form that we’re just going to turn a blind eye to this and wait for the government to come in and do the testing,” Freeman said. “We have to recognize with our common sense that something is wrong and we are creating this problem.”

O’Neill said she doesn’t want Durham to become “the next Flint,” a city in Michigan where contaminated drinking water has turned into a public health crisis, and is wary of further development in the area.

“I really don’t need science to know we have a problem,” O’Neill said. “Call it a moratorium, what you will… We are obliged, I believe, to pause.”

Mayor Proctor Mark-Anthony Middleton, who voted for the annexation along with Council members Javier Caballero and Leonardo Williams, said the only evidence presented was anecdotal and related to stormwater runoff, not potable water.

“Is there a scientific causal relationship between these sediments and turbidity and people getting sick, dying?” Middleton pressed the staff, who said it had not. “It is very important that we respond as a government. … Nobody cited any science at all.”

Caballero said in areas across the Wake County line in areas not annexed by Raleigh, sprawling development has created its own problems.

“What we’ve seen is very large, very expensive homes on septic tanks, and that’s not an environmentally sound policy either,” Caballero said.

Neil Ghosh, a lawyer representing CSC Group, pointed out that most of the space is earmarked for industrial use.

“I think that was left out of the conversation,” Ghosh said in an interview after the meeting. “You will receive a special use permit, you can make a landfill on this site today. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen, but it’s possible.”

Leesville Road, zoned for suburban development

Durham is developing a new comprehensive land use plan that could change the area’s development.

“This whole area was earmarked for a transition to suburban-style development, and that’s one of the reasons the city invested in infrastructure to facilitate that,” said Planning Director Sarah Young. “It’s a transition from the 2005 comprehensive plan that we see in place today.”

In May, the Planning Commission voted unanimously not to recommend CSC Group’s proposal, saying it was not sustainable to build sprawling developments without a commitment to affordable housing.

Those in favor of the project said increasing Durham’s housing supply would help ease availability problem. The developers proposed Monday night to include three affordable townhouses, along with an $80,000 contribution to the Durham Affordable Housing Fund.

“We need more housing and this project can help address the shortage, at least partially,” said Leesville Road resident Fansin Lee.

“This is an ideal location to meet the rapidly growing need for housing,” added Anthony Catalano, a representative of Hoffman Carolina, which owns several large parcels in the area.

Rebecca Freeman, another member of Preserve Rural Durham, argued that the proposed development was too dense.

“It should be less dense than what’s being proposed,” Freeman said. “The infrastructure and support for south-east Durham is already stretched too thin.”

EPCON Communities plans to build 67 single-family homes between Farrington Road and Interstate 40 in southwest Durham. The city voted to annex the land on August 15, 2022. Durham City and County Planning Department

Farrington Road District Approved

Earlier Monday night, the city council voted to annex and rezone the property on the opposite side of the county, clearing the way for new suburban development there.

EPCON communitiesa national construction company specializing in 55+ communities plans to build 67 single-family homes in the 5200 block of Farrington Road, west of Interstate 40.

The microdistrict will be connected to the city’s water supply and sewerage system.

EPCON has more than a dozen communities in North Carolina, including Durham and Cary. Ghosh said these houses are likely to be sold at Durham’s median home price of about $410,000 latest data.

The vote was split 4-2, with Caballero and Freeman voting against.

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Mary Helen Moore covers Durham for The News & Observer. She grew up in eastern North Carolina and attended UNC-Chapel Hill before working in newspapers in Florida for several years. Outside of work, you can find her biking, reading, or hunting for plants.

Durham rejects townhouse, single-family development near Wake

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