Durham planning board hands a win to Publix opponents

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Opponents of development in a north Durham neighborhood got a boost from the planning commission.

Some north Durham residents are celebrating a win Tuesday night after the Durham Planning Commission voted against giving a proposal a thumbs up to rezone residential land to mix use.

That decision will be handed off to the City Council when it decides on the future of North River Village.

At issue is a 30-acre lot at Guess and Latta roads in Durham. Right now, it's zoned for single-family homes. The site's developer has applied to have it rezoned for mixed use, hoping to make a blend of commercial and residential properties.

Find out more about North River Village

Publix has already said it wants in and the developer hopes to also attract some restaurants. No matter what could move in, many residents in the area don't want to see the land rezoned for any commercial use.

More than 30 people signed up to speak on the issue at Tuesday night's planning commission meeting. The room was packed and was standing room only with people against the proposed project and those who support it.

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Those who welcome North River Village say north Durham hasn't seen growth and they would like to see more commercial options closer to home. Those against say they worry about increased traffic in what they say is an already congested area. They also worry about the impact to the nearby Eno River.

When it came time to vote, 11 commissioners voted against the project, two voted in support.


Many commissioners echoed concerns from the residents. On traffic some commissioners were happy with the developer's plan to alleviate current and future congestion. They said it could be something that area of Durham needs.

But commissioner Thomas Miller said the improvements seem to only promise not to make traffic worse instead of better than what it is now.

Several commissioners also cited concerns that the proposed project doesn't fit under the guidelines for mixed use. One sticking point on that is it's too close to existing commercial property.

Find out more about Durham city council planning

"If we're not careful we will wind up with Guess Road north of the Eno River, looking like Guess Road south of the Eno River and Roxboro Road from I-85 all the way up to Infinity Road, a mish-mash of piece-meal commercial zoning," Miller said.

"Things are great when they're new and then they begin to decay and instead of going back and fixing those, we take another green field and put a new strip shopping center and it's kind of slash-and-burn development and that's what this is and we shouldn't do it," Miller added.


Supporters also argued that Durham is growing and projects such as North River Village are inevitable.

Overall, planning commissioners were not comfortable with the way the plan is laid out now and those concerns were reflected in their vote to not send the project with "favorable recommendation" to the City Council.

The "not favorable" recommendation will now go to Council, which will ultimately decide the fate of North River Village.

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