The project is still too big.
That's the takeaway from a revised report about the proposed Greystone Inn Apartments, issued by Durham planning department.
The developers, Lomax Properties, based in Greensboro, have improved some aspects of the project at Duke Street and Morehead Avenue, but it still has 140 units. It still has three buildings. And it still does not meet all the standards to be built in the Morehead Hill Historic District.
Perhaps anticipating the big N-O from the Historic Preservation Commission, Ron Horvath of Horvath Associates, the Durham civil engineering firm working on the proposal, asked for a continuance until December. The HPC granted the continuance, the second one for the project.
The architect is redesigning the site to break the 140 apartments into smaller buildings, Horvath said. Currently, the plan calls for three apartment buildings. City-county planning staff has criticized the project for its mass and density, which is inconsistent with the Morehead Hill Historic District, where the apartments would be built.
There is a chance that the developer will completely withdraw the controversial project in December, Horvath said, "if the timing isn't right."
As the INDY reported in August, Lomax wants to build the Greystone Inn Apartments on a 3.6-acre grassy meadow next to the historic Greystone Inn. Under the plan, the inn would become a clubhouse and conference center.
While the most recent proposal heeds some of the commission's previous recommendations—it eliminates a path between the apartments and the inn, moves the swimming pool, switches window hangings from vinyl to aluminum and saves eight trees along Morehead Avenue—the size and mass of the project remains a concern. (Judging from architectural renderings in the report, the apartment buildings resemble a Marriott Residence Inn.)
At three and four stories, the buildings would tower over the smaller single-family homes in the neighborhood. Granted, at nine stories, the J.J. Henderson Housing Center sits diagonally from the proposed site. But Henderson Towers, as it's known, lies outside of the district. The Durham Housing Authority owns the towers property.
The planning department's analysis did acknowledge that since the proposed apartments are on the edge of the district and along a major thoroughfare—the Durham freeway runs below and behind the land—larger structures could be built there. However, the mass of the buildings still "visually dominate the existing streetscape" and the density would "alter the pastoral character of the landmark site," the report said.
There were so many suits stuffed into a second-floor room at the Carmichael Building on North Duke Street that it looked like a Jos. A. Bank sale.
Instead, the occasion was the announcement of a $500 million new development proposed for the northwest side of downtown: the Durham Innovation District with 1.7 million square feet of office, scientific research, retail, 300 residences and a public park on 15 acres.
In an exercise of linguistic calisthenics, a sign at the gala announced the district would also target "pre-revenue" start ups. Pre-revenue? Does that mean broke?
The district is bounded by Roney Street and the farmers market to the east, Corporation Street to the north, Duke Street to the West and Fernway/Morgan Street to the south.
The project is led by Duke University, Measurement, Inc. and Longfellow Real Estate Partners.
Although organizers didn't roll out a timetable, maps show Durham.ID, as it's known, will be built in four phases, proceeding from east to west. The residences will be clustered in the center of the development. No price ranges have been made public. (Someone is already living—in a car—where an office building and parking are planned. Before he's displaced, let's hope he can be placed in permanent housing.)
While the elected officials, university bigwigs and real estate developers celebrated (it was 10 a.m., so donuts subbed for wine), they were also careful to massage the point that creating a life sciences hub downtown shouldn't be viewed as invading RTP's turf.
"We're not competing with RTP," said Scott Selig, Duke University vice president of real estate. "This is the downtown answer while RTP gets things up and running."
Regardless of the public assurances, the downtown tech and life sciences boom in Durham and Raleigh does compete with RTP, the longtime headquarters for multinational companies—GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Cisco—as well as smaller startups.
When RTP was built in the 1950s and 1960s, the suburban office park was en vogue. Here, scientists, inventors and innovators could work in quiet offices, walled off by trees from the rest of the world.
But 21st-century workplaces, particularly in life sciences and tech, encourage more collaboration. That's why co-working spaces, such as those in American Underground—where even the private offices are glass—are so successful. RTP is trying to respond to that demand by creating the Archie campus, with office, retail, residences and restaurants at Park Drive and Highway 54. In fact, it sounds a lot like Durham.ID.
"There are so many researchers in a secluded area," said Mayor Bill Bell. "Now we can bring them downtown."
Condo-mania continues in downtown Durham, with the news that 501 Realty is working with an as-yet-unnamed developer on a new condo project, according to an email sent to businesses at American Underground at Main. The INDY offices are in the same building as AU at Main.
The project will bring 100 new condos ranging from $230,000 to $900,000. The email asked workers for feedback about amenities, prices and other quality of life questions.
"Great live/work opportunity, and a great addition to downtown living opportunities," the email read, "as there aren't many condos currently available in Durham."
Tammi Brooks of 501 Realty said the details, including the developer's name, would not be finalized for several weeks.
I filled out the survey, and noted that $230,000 is way too high for white-collar workers—and even "pre-revenue" entrepreneurs. And how about the Durham ambassadors, the people who clean the streets of downtown—even scooping up human feces? Is our message to them Sweep and Leave?
Almost all of the new developments and there are many—are high-end. The exception is the Lofts at Southside project, which is heavily subsidized by the city.
But the ritzy market has run amok: Eight condos are being built at Church and Main streets, ranging in price from $459,000 to $536,000. And 31 condos are planned for the City Center Tower at Main and Corcoran streets. Those condos run from $300,000 to $1.6 million. More than half of them are already reserved.
The news of the condo project comes at a time when safe, affordable housing particularly near downtown, is scarce.
On Monday night, Cynthia Harris, rehousing coordinator for Housing for New Hope, underscored that scarcity. The nonprofit has found homes for 70 formerly homeless households this year, but another "20 to 30 cases are on my desk," she said. Many of the units are not affordable after the cost of utilities is added in. "I'm asking you [Council] to help us get more permanent affordable housing," Harris said.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Spacing out"