The Lake Crabtree bike trails are safe – until 2015, anyway

Yesterday WRAL posted an update on the status of the bike trails at lake Crabtree, whose future depends on the continued cooperation of the RDU airport authority who presently leases the parcel to Wake County (previously discussed here):

Airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said the new deal would have an annual renewal through 2025, giving the airport authority more flexibility.

“Annual renewal” for “more flexibility.” Basically, that means that the airport wants the ability to re-use the land on short notice. This portion of Lake Crabtree Park [NB: WRAL seems to think this parcel is not part of the park, but I think they're wrong; check out this map from Wake County which does clearly show that it's included] can still go away on a whim from RDU.

Why would RDU want the ability to do things with the land? Why, perhaps they want to develop it, just as their plan states.

The reprieve until next year doesn’t change the equation in a meaningful way. RDU has issued vague assurances that they don’t have any plans to “develop” that land “at this time” (watch the video from WRAL), but that doesn’t mean much. They might well have plans to “sell” it tomorrow or develop it “at another time” for all we know.

Note how, in an apparent effort to avoid inspiring any confidence that the park will continue to exist, the RDU rep goes on to talk about all the reasons that the airport might want to develop its land right after saying it doesn’t have any plans to do so.

If you care about this park, don’t become complacent. I feel like the best way to really assure its future is to have Wake County buy it from RDU. I’m sure that’s a tough sell to the taxpayers in Wake County, but it’s difficult to imagine RDU leaving this land alone forever out of the kindness of their own hearts. There’s money to be made, after all!

What is this “Durham Innovation District” thing?

You may have seen headlines about some thing called “Durham.ID.” Despite the name, it is 1) not related to durham.io and 2) not even actually a domain name; rather it’s… an “Innovation District.”

What’s an “Innovation District?” Well, apparently:

“We want it to be technology; we want it to be big data; we want it to be all kinds of interactions day and night to make this truly a fun place to be,” he said.

Yeah, OK. Nothing says “fun” like “big data.” But let’s roll with it.

Here’s the tldr; version: basically, this is a potentially large mixed use development (skewed towards office space but with residential and commercial components) which is a joint venture between Longfellow Partners and Measurement Inc. From what I can tell, Measurement owns most of the property presently; it’s unclear to me whether they intend to simply sell it all to Longfellow or whether they want to retain some ownership stake going forward. The project will run from Central Park to West Village to DSA to the DAP. About a third of the proposed space will come from extant historic structures which are in various states of readiness for occupancy, and the rest will come from infill of vacant lots and surface parking.

The PR material certainly invokes the ATC, but this project will lean more heavily on new construction. They’ve got a map in PDF form over at WRAL, and I’ve used that to fill in the footprint on google maps (more or less). Retained historic structures are highlighted in green, non-historic but completed structures in red; everything else will be used for new construction:

selected

At first blush, I can tell you one thing that makes me excited: they’re going to kill off a massive chunk of surface parking and replace it with decks. A lot of those lots seem completely expendable. My only minor concern is the loss of the Farmer’s Market lot on Morris St., and I hope they can continue to provide free or cheap parking for the Market going forward.

The plan calls for the preservation of several historic structures, some of which are already in use. The Carmichael Warehouse, the Brodie Duke warehouse, the Imperial Building, the BC building, and the Power House will all be retained (Carmichael already is leased by Duke; I’m unclear on the others). Everything else will be new construction (save for the already completed but seemingly vacant generic office building on Hunt known as “Morris Ridge”).

Several structures aren’t going to survive. There are two small commercial / light industrial buildings across from the DAP that will be demolished. There are three houses on Morris that look like they’re going to be demolished; two of them look extremely run down and one seems to house Burke-Little & Associates. The Young Roofing Company building also looks like it’s getting the axe, as is the DPS building at the corner of Hunt and Morriss.

The two curious residential properties on Liggett are also going away, and that’s the site of “proposed public park.” I’m unclear on the fate of the weird light industrial building on that block that seems to still exist in the plans for some reason.

I’d say I’m tentatively optimistic right now. The first “phase” of construction looks like it will involve demo of the structures on Liggett St. to make way for the park, demo of the DPS building, and its replacement with two new office buildings and new parking on that block in the extreme southeast of the project. Presumably they’ll also work on road realignment at this time.

Reading between the lines, I don’t think they’re in any hurry to get this all done. The phased approach will allow them to build out at a pace that matches demand.

This project will be worth keeping an eye on; it’s exciting to see a focus on office space rather than just slamming down more residential. All those people will need to work somewhere, you know…

The RDU Airport Authority may intend to sell off a large part of Lake Crabtree Park

OK, this is 1) technically not in Durham and 2) maybe nothing, but in the last few days I’ve noticed a lot of grumbling about the fate of the Lake Crabtree Park in Morisville.

This park has long been a popular destination for mountain bikers, with an extensive network of trails for all skill levels. Once upon a time, when I lived in (gasp) Cary, I would routinely hop on the greenways and ride up to the park; its central location near RDU makes it very easy to get to, and it’s still one of the most convenient trails for me to get to coming from downtown Durham.

So, what’s going on here, anyway? I was surprised to find out that the trail system resides on property that’s owned by the airport authority and leased to Wake County. That means that, should RDU ever be inclined to develop the land, a huge wooded chunk of the park will be lost and converted to [insert development type here].

The County’s current lease on the area expired last year, and RDU has yet to renew it, which has raised a lot of speculation that the end is nigh. RDU’s latest study indicates that this would be a good location for:

Partly restricted, high-performance development (office, hospitality) set back from the lakefront with direct access to waterfront park.

Some folks at TriangleMTB have been looking into the situation. They’ve also put together a web site specifically to raise awareness.

The Herald ran an article on the situation last week, and they got a response from the RDU authority:

Airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said a lease for another 149 acres, known as the “FATS parcel,” expired last year but negotiations are under way to extend it.

“We are currently working with the county to determine what the length of the next agreement will be,” Hamlin said.

Airport officials say they have no immediate plans to develop the property.

“No immediate plans to develop” – those are the Herald’s words, not the authority’s, but that phrase leaves a massive amount of wiggle room (e.g. RDU might plan to sell immediately, or plan to develop in the future, and that could still have been a technically true statement).

It’s not really obvious to me what if any impact Durham residents can have on this process, since the park itself is just across the border in Wake County. Some potential “outs” here involve some government purchasing the land from RDU; say, DENR or Wake County. But it seems pretty clear that RDU thinks this parcel holds a lot of untapped potential, and even if they don’t act on that today, its future is very much uncertain.

Zagster bike rentals show up on Duke campus

Following the end of Duke’s in-house bike lending program last year, the student government and the university worked together to find a replacement. They gave the nod to a company called Zagster, and this week I’ve started seeing the bikes on campus:

This one’s on West Campus in a not-so-visible location behind the Allen building near the quad. I also spotted one near the main bus stop on East Campus earlier this week (but failed to grab a photo).

There are four stations to start with: two on West Campus, one on Central Campus, and the one on East Campus. Although the location behind Allen pictured above isn’t exactly prime real estate for visibility, it could be pretty convenient assuming you know where to look for it. When I swung by it looked like the rack was full, except for a single bike that I saw somebody take out of the rack as I approached.

I’m always glad to see this sort of initiative, but with the bike stations located only on campus the potential for wider utility will go unrealized. I’d love to see the city some how tie into Duke’s efforts; imagine how much more useful this kind of program would be if there were stations at Ninth St., downtown, etc.

Stay and Play Snack Cafe is shutting down

At this rate I’m going to need a depressing segment called “Cafe Closing Corner” or something, because yet another downtown cafe is shutting down:

Since Stay & Play is a young, family business with tight margins, the cost increase means the café will be priced out of its current location.

The original owners of the cafe were hoping to sell the business so they could focus on their growing family, but a rent increase seems to have priced the business out of its current location. You might remember that Stay and Play launched following a successful kickstarter back in 2012.

The business actually had (from my perspective) a really cool concept: it was part coffee shop, part playroom, and it was a pretty great place to take your small kids to get a moment’s respite from the chaos. It’ll be missed.

I really feel like downtown is lacking in spaces for young children. There are a few oases: The Parlour, BCBB, and Pompieri are all very kid friendly, but you can’t spend your entire day eating; there just aren’t many places for the kids to play. The Fun Zone, another kid oriented downtown business, also shut down recently (last year?).

Bennett Place seeks last minute funding to acquire historic parcel

Have you ever checked out Bennett Place? It’s pretty cool. Located on the northwest side of town out by US 70, the state park is the site of the largest surrender during the civil war.

Spoiler: the Confederates are the ones who surrendered.

Anyway, the park was hoping to acquire a 2 acre parcel of land which contains the road Gen. Johnston took on the way to surrender to Sherman. The problem? They don’t have the cash.

The first I saw about the situation was an article in the Herald dated September 22, stating that the park was trying to raise $310,000 by September 30. That’s some seriously short notice; it sounds like a grant didn’t come through. The WRAL article mentions that the deadline was later pushed back to October 31.

It’s unclear to me how much they’ve raised of that $310,000. WRAL quotes the same figure. Bennett Place itself doesn’t seem to have any information about this situation on the web, so I’ll just quote what they told WRAL:

Donations can be made to the Bennett Place Support Fund, 4409 Bennett Memorial Road, Durham, NC 27705. For more information, call 919-383-4345 or email bennett@ncdcr.gov.

It also looks like you can also donate to the fund via the Bennett Place web site.

The property in question is directly across the road from the main park facilities, and I ride my bike through there pretty often. It will certainly change the character of the historic site if there’s commercial or light industrial directly adjacent.