Well, I might throw up in my mouth a little bit, but I do have to give Lomax Properties points for improvement.
Since last year, Lomax, based in Greensboro, has been trying to convince the city and the historic Morehead Hill neighborhood to approve, even welcome, its plan to build apartments on three acres of meadow near Duke Street and Morehead Avenue.
The original plan called for a monolithic block of homogenous, three-and-four-story apartment buildings facing Morehead. After a protracted set of do-overs, both the city's Historic Preservation Commission and the Morehead Hill Neighborhood Association essentially told Lomax to take their suburban schematics and put them ... uh elsewhere.
So last week, respected Durham architect Lucien Roughton and Lomax responded to concerns about the mass and scale with new drawings that show three separate buildings fronting the street, with some variety in the facades. Two large oak trees would be preserved (but perhaps not the mulberry, sadly, so this could be the last year to forage for berries).
And the number of units has been reduced from 144 to 124, more than half of them one-bedrooms, with 158 parking spaces out back. I gotta say, it looked better.
The opulent historic Greystone Inn, expensive to maintain, comes with the deal, and would become a clubhouse. Part of the revenue from the apartment complex would go toward upkeep of the inn—without which, company executive vice president Patrick Woods told neighbors, who had gathered at the inn, "this place would crumble."
That would be tragic, as downtown and adjoining neighborhoods have endured plenty of instances of demolition by neglect. (Paging Greenfire.) But company president John Lomax assured neighbors that there is no reasonable incentive for them to allow the inn to turn to dust. Even if a tornado blew away the inn tomorrow, the zoning prohibits Lomax from building any more units.
Aside from the architectural anxiety, neighbors have long been concerned that swingin' collegiate apartment dwellers would turn Morehead Hill into a set from The Real World. But Lomax said Greystone would be restricted to ages 21 and up.
That did not console the neighbors, who know that 21 is the new 11, and asked that the minimum age be 30-something, which would accommodate people "who don't want to live with students." (We could call them Greystoners, heh-heh.)
I get that, having lived in enough student neighborhoods to know that it's a drag to hear a drunk guy sit on his porch playing the same guitar chord, usually E-minor, for two hours. But I did feel dismayed by a strong sense of a homeowners versus renters sentiment at the meeting.
"I was hoping for high-end condos," said one woman, holding her tiny dog.
"Yes," I thought, "because Durham doesn't have enough of those in the pipeline."
Lomax did not disclose the price for these 750-to-1,250-square-foot luxury cocoons, only to say it would be "the most we can get out of the market."
Because Durham doesn't have enough of those in the pipeline.
A Better Place is a column about Durham development. Lisa Sorg is the INDY editor. Reach her at email@example.com and via Twitter @lisasorg.