'I'm being broken': Entrepreneur says fence at University Hill in Durham is harming business

Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Entrepreneur says fence at Durham's University Hill harming business
A south Durham business owner thinks racism may be behind a dispute over parking and accessibility with a mixed-use developer next door.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nestled in south Durham is Shea Ramirez's pride and joy.

It's called Sh'Bella Recreation Center, a creative space she launched two years ago where people can celebrate the arts and be inspired.

But Ramirez said she's losing thousands of dollars from her $250,000 investment because of a fence.

In April of last year, Ramirez said one of the owners of University Hill, the new mixed-use residential and commercial development, put up a fence blocking her customers who rely on accessible or handicapped parking to get to her business.

Instead, they are forced to use stairs.

"I've had clients come in that have asthma; they have to catch their breath," Ramirez said.

The trouble kept coming.

University Hill owners Hawthorne Residential Partners filed a lawsuit against Ramirez's landlord, Miller Property Management, accusing her of running a nightclub after hours, resulting in illegal parking, loud noise and excessive garbage.

Damages totaling $25,000, they claim. Ramirez denies that.

Despite the Black culture murals on University Hill's wall, Ramirez said she believes owners are trying to force her out. She has one of the few Black-owned businesses in the neighborhood.

"This is a place for everyone. This is a place of love and unity, and I feel like where I'm providing it to the community, I'm being broken dealing with him," Ramirez said.

Last May, Ramirez's landlord wrote a letter to Shoff Allison, one of the owners of Hawthorne Residential Partners.

In the letter, the landlord asks Allison if they could pay them for handicapped parking spaces on their property.

Ramirez said that there has been no follow-up response to her landlord's note.

"He refuses to acknowledge that it's an issue," Ramirez said. "And I believe it is more of a racism issue. Because I don't know this man. This cannot be tolerated in Durham."

ABC11 reached out to Allison for comment but has not heard back.

Ramirez's landlord told ABC11 that the lawsuit is now in mediation.

They are hoping to get to a compromise soon.