Shopping center goes on shelf
Developer plans to revive N. Durham effort in 6 months


BY BEN EVANS; 419-6600
The Herald-Sun  Thursday, August 14, 2003

Page B1

The developers behind a proposed Shopping center at Latta and Guess roads withdrew their rezoning request Wednesday and said they would reapply in six months, the earliest they can refile under city rules. The move came after the Durham city attorney’s office ruled that a protest petition filed by area residents was valid, meaning that the rezoning would have needed six affirmative votes from the seven-member City Council for approval. That seemed unlikely considering the divided support the project received in a vote on a related land-use amendment earlier this month.


The withdrawal marked at least a temporary victory for neighbors who banded together in opposition to the Shopping center, which they say isn’t needed and isn’t consistent with long-term land-use plans that call for residential development on the site.


Megan Gray, a resident who has helped organize the opposition, said she doesn’t foresee any change in the residents’ position if the developer brings back the same proposal in February.

“If they’re going to continue this commercial development thing, then … we are going to fight it tooth and nail, I would think,” she said. “I can only foresee even stronger resolve if their proposal is not significantly different. If it doesn’t fit the plan, then people take notice, and this is completely inconsistent with the [long-term] plan.”


A representative for the developer, AAC Real Estate Services of Charlotte, said the company “feels like we have a good project” and hopes to win support in the coming months. The developer and its attorney, Ken Spaulding, also have been attempting to organize area residents in support of the project.  “We feel like we’ve had a lot of support, a lot of people who are saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on here? This is something we want to see,’ ” said project manager Joe Dye, referring to a handful of residents who backed the plan at a recent council meeting, saying they wanted more Shopping in northern Durham.


AAC wants to build a 103,197-square-foot Shopping center on 15 acres at the southeastern corner of Guess and Latta roads. The project could include a grocery store, banks, restaurants and other office and retail space. The long-term land-use plan governing the site calls for low-density residential use, a fact that critics, including city-county planning staff, have cited in recommending that the council deny the project.


Because the proposed use conflicts with the long-term land-use plan governing the area, the developer — even before requesting a rezoning — was required to request a change to the plan.

Earlier this month, the council deadlocked in a 3-3 vote that defeated the preliminary request. City Councilwoman Tamra Edwards was absent from the meeting. Last week, the developer attempted to resubmit the land-use plan amendment request, hoping to win a full council vote, but City-County Planning Director Frank Duke rejected the request. Duke said the developer either must significantly change the plan to resubmit it immediately or withdraw the related rezoning request, which had been set for a vote Monday, and wait six months to resubmit the entire proposal. In choosing the latter option, the developer apparently is hoping either to avoid another protest petition in six months or to find a more amenable City Council next year after the Nov. 4 election, in which four seats are open.


In order to withdraw the rezoning request, the developer, which has an option to purchase the land from several property owners, technically needed one of the landowners to withdraw consent to the rezoning request. Landowner Doris Tilley did that Wednesday, but she emphasized that she supports the project completely and withdrew her consent only to ensure a vote later.


Both sides have said they are willing to work together, but so far, after several meetings, compromise has been elusive.


“We have not backed away at all from meeting with our opponents, but there has to be a certain level of reasonableness,” Dye said. “We want to come to the table and find out how to work together.”


Gray said residents have proposed several changes, such as eliminating the grocery store and including larger tree buffers, but she said the developer hasn’t been willing to accept the suggestions.


“In our mind, we have found middle ground,” she said.