Durham Historic Preservation Commission to discuss possible Watts-Hillandale tear-down | News
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Durham Historic Preservation Commission to discuss possible Watts-Hillandale tear-down

Posted by on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 7:25 AM

Few events rile the residents of a historic district like a new home—especially when it requires the demolition of a well-maintained, 90-year-old Craftsman bungalow.

Today's Durham Historic Preservation Commission meeting (8:30 a.m., Durham City Hall) is likely to be an impassioned one as the the HPC has the unenviable task of weighing in on the fate of the Williams-Muse House at 2308 W. Club Blvd. Built in the 1920s, with two chimneys, sash windows, a gabled roof and French entrance door, it is considered a contributing structure to the historic Watts-Hillandale neighborhood.

click to enlarge The Williams-Muse House, 2308 W. Club Blvd. - DURHAM PLANNING DEPARTMENT
  • Durham Planning Department
  • The Williams-Muse House, 2308 W. Club Blvd.


But Trevor and Jordan Smith, the home's new owners, are asking the HPC for permission to tear down the 1,400-square-foot house and its garage, which they purchased for upward of $375,000, and to build a new home on the lot.


click to enlarge A drawing of the proposed new house that would replace the 1920s bungalow - DURHAM PLANNING DEPARTMENT
  • Durham Planning Department
  • A drawing of the proposed new house that would replace the 1920s bungalow


The couple grew up in South Carolina—reinforcing in Durham terms, their outsider status. After stints in the Northeastern U.S. and South Africa, the couple came to Durham with their three children. (They do have local connections: Trevor's brother coaches the Duke men's tennis team; Jordan graduated from UNC Chapel Hill.)

The Smiths originally planned to subdivide the 3/4-acre lot with "close friends" according to the staff report, preserve the current home and build a new one. But the lot was too narrow to be subdivided, so the Smiths' Plan B was to add on to the home. Although the city lists it in "sound condition," an engineering report states that it has foundation issues—as do many homes in Durham of a certain age—and can't handle the addition of a second story.

That brings us to the tear down, which many residents in the very active, very powerful, very vocal, don't-mess-with-them Watts-Hillandale neighborhood oppose. 

The demolition conflicts the neighborhood's preservation goals, according to city planning staff, which will make a recommendation to the HPC after today's public testimony.

A city ordinance allows historic homes to be demolished but only after a year-long waiting period. During that time, the HPC can negotiate with the property owner to find a way to preserve the home, such as moving it to a different lot.

There are occasions when the HPC can reduce the waiting time: if the property owner would "suffer extreme financial hardship," if the owner would be "permanently deprived of all beneficial use from the structure" or if the building has little historical value.

None of these exceptions applies to the Smiths, according to the city planning staff report.

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