Council delays vote on Business 15-501 reconfiguration

The N&O is reporting that the plan, which had appeared to be heading for approval, has been sidetracked by opposition from some local businesses. The owners of Hair by Design, Classic Treasures, and the Refectory Cafe all expressed their concerns.

To be clear, the DOT’s traffic analysis shows that a reduction in travel lanes will not reduce throughput of the road and the road will continue to meet the corridor’s needs for the forseeable future. The road is essentially overbuilt now.

Adding bike lanes in general is not shown to have negative impacts on businesses. In fact, to the contrary; even in situations where street parking is sacrificed for bike lanes, adding the bike lanes has positive effects on many types of businesses (including restaurants).

The opposition is especially perplexing to me because the change will actually add parking spaces, not remove them. I’d like to understand what data these businesses have that suggests a reconfiguration would harm them, most especially a restaurant with outdoor seating. I’d expect that fewer cars exceeding the speed limit, and a larger buffer between the road and the restaurant, would be an obvious win.

If you’re going to second guess the DOT’s projections for the road’s capacity and oppose the people who live in and have to actually navigate the area, I hope you’ve thought through your assumptions. From the information I have it just looks like opposing change out of irrational fear.

If your business is so tenuous that you legitimately think that adding bike lanes will cause people to avoid patronizing your establishment, you may have more fundamental concerns you need to address first.

Preservation Durham pushes to save structures on the new DPD HQ site

Plans for the DPD HQ are starting to take shape, and the city held a public “Community Visioning Session” to elicit comments last week (sorry I missed that one, busy week you guys…)

I’ve mentioned my own concerns with this site before, but as things move forward it’s important to make the best with what we have. Along those lines, Preservation Durham had a few suggestions:

“The question that we are putting out there is, is there value in keeping this building, and is there space to keep it as part of this new complex?” said Wendy Hillis, executive director of Preservation Durham. “There hasn’t been any emphasis on saving these buildings.”

Hillis said it would be a shame to lose the buildings, which she said have an “authentic” feel in their design.

Concerns about the impact of the DPD HQ on the streetscape are well known to the council, and probably the most vocal advocate for focusing on these elements is Don Moffitt, who always seems to be quoted by media outlets:

“It presents a very large façade to the street, and it’s not a great space to be a pedestrian,” he said. “My goal, my emphasis is to make sure we do (the police headquarters) in a way that contributes to the life on the street and the connector between” downtown and east Durham.

The buildings PD is focusing on incorporating into the site are the Carpenter Motor Company Building and the “GMC Truck Building” on the other end of the block.

Last week’s meeting is viewable via Durham’s web site, and you can still submit commentary via email or telephone through May 1.

What’s going to happen to the downtown loop?

Durham’s most infamous traffic feature is probably the bizarre “downtown loop,” a series of distinct roads which were fused into a large one way route encircling the city center.

The loop was was originally constructed to keep factory workers out of a busy downtown as they commuted to and from their jobs. Unfortunately, the loop didn’t help for long, since people started fleeing for the suburbs and the tobacco industry started winding down shortly after it was completed.

Ultimately, the city was left with a huge moat of asphalt diverting drivers around a ghost town.

Downtown has obviously taken off again despite the loop, and there has been a lot of talk about how best to correct the traffic pattern in recent years. Now, it seems like there’s some progress, and the Herald has an op-ed in support of the project.

Although the benefit of making downtown more accessible (via foot or vehicle) is clear, there are other benefits; a redesigned streetscape would allow for additional development opportunities. A rendering of how reworking the loop could impact downtown was created by Cleveland and Church Partners and posted to the BPAC mailing list:

The biggest challenge with reworking the loop is, unsurprisingly, funding. According to the Herald, a streetscape improvement project would require $30M in funding, and it’s difficult to imagine the loop bumping off several other higher priority projects. According to the DDOT, simply converting the roads back to two-way and not doing other improvements could be accomplished for a more reasonable $12M.

The loop is a tricky problem. Downtown is a prominent success story now, and making it more appealing holds a lot of value to the city’s image. But how much money is the city ready to spend here, when downtown is clearly getting by well enough with things as they are? Are we better off working to improve less visible infrastructure in under-served parts of the city first?

I’ve always hated that damn loop. I definitely want it gone. But I can also see why it might not be perceived as the best bang for the buck right now.

The Durham Co-Op Market is OPEN

Although construction was delayed due to all the winter weather, opening day has finally arrived for the Durham Co-Op Market. IMG_20150318_083717

Here are a couple of panoramas (click to embiggen).

Exterior:

PANO_20150318_123406

Interior:

PANO_20150318_122657

I didn’t need much, but I definitely needed this: IMG_20150318_084827 The interior of the store is nice, with a lot of light coming in from those windows. It’s not a big store – I feel like it’s a bit smaller than the 9th St Whole Foods original size – but they’ve got most of what you’d expect (including a prepared food counter, coffee shop, and a deli). Prices seem to be about in line with Whole Foods.

It’s also a great place to stalk local radio personality Frank Stasio, who was making the rounds when I stopped by.

I’ve posted about the DCM a few times, and it’s really exciting to see the project come to fruition. The building is located at 1111 West Chapel Hill St. (at the intersection of Kent and WCH, near the cemetery).

Forced to relocate due to the DPD HQ move, Bull City Ciderworks turns to Kickstarter for funding

I’ve mentioned the new DPD HQ site near Golden Belt a few times now, and as that plan moves forward the existing tenants will need to move on. One such tenant, Bull City Ciderworks, has launched a kickstarter project to fund its own move away from the site.

The Ciderworks has developed a solid following, and prior to the DPD HQ site decision they appeared well positioned to anchor a general revitalization of the area. It’s not clear where they intend to relocate, only noting on the Kickstarter project page that they’ve already targeted several locations.

Again, I’ve got to give a wag of the finger to the city for the selection of this site for the DPD HQ. There was a lot of potential for creative reuse here, and businesses like the Ciderworks could have just been the tip of the iceberg.

In more DPD HQ news, councilman Don Moffitt is encouraging consideration of the project’s impact on the streetscape as the city prepares to hire an architectural firm. Faceless government facilities tend to really stifle surrounding development, and given that the DPD HQ is coming, it’s at least somewhat reassuring that the council is thinking of ways to integrate it into the site in a minimally disruptive way.

Construction of the downtown skyscraper project will require the removal of existing building façades

Austin Lawrence Partners, the relatively new owners of the Jack Tar Motel, will need to remove the façades of existing buildings on their skyscraper site:

The decision came after developers and engineers working on the project told the commission the façades’ existing brickwork is too fragile to be safely braced during the construction.

Tests found the strength of the bricks in some portions of the walls is “less than 15 percent of what you’d anticipate,” said Matt Ryan, a foundation engineer who’s working with developer Austin Lawrence Partners on the project.

You may remember those façades in the original rendering, which shows remnants of several nearby buildings integrated into the otherwise pretty generic structure:

Instead of supporting those façades through construction as originally hoped, the new plan calls for disassembly and reconstruction later on. They do intend to replicate the appearance of the current streetscape using the old materials if possible, but it sounds like the stuff is in pretty bad shape so expect it to be heavily supplemented with additional materials from other sources.

Due to the expiration of state-level tax credits, Austin Lawrence Partners needs to request demo permits by the end of the year, and the Historic Preservation Commission has signed off on the plan.

When looking this one up again over at opendurham, I had a double twinge of regret; not only due to the loss of the historic structures over the years, but also due to the unrealized Greenfire renderings, which seemed much more compelling than what Austin Lawrence Partners has whipped up for us. C’est la vie.

Ponysaurus is about to upgrade from nano to micro

The so-called “nanobrewery,” which has been operating out of the Cookery, has plans to open a home of its own. Given its limited production capacity, Ponysaurus has so far mostly been sold through local restaurants and at special events. This new facility will enable them to dramatically expand their market to include cans sold at retail.

Conceptually the facility sounds similar to the venerable Fullsteam, as it will include a bar and social space attached to the brewery itself.

The brewery will be located on the corner of Hood and Ramseur, which I assume places it in the brick garage on the southeast side of the intersection. Ponysaurus will be one block away from Bull City Ciderworks, but I guess they don’t need to worry about competition for long; the bulldozers will be coming for Bull City Ciderworks as soon as DPD HQ construction gets moving.

I just want to take a moment here to point out how unfortunate it is that the Council has deemed this area unworthy of salvation. Their thirst for urban renewal threatens to tank an area that was ripe for creative re-use and revitalization, as evidenced by new businesses springing up rapidly. It’s a shame that the city couldn’t have found a less disruptive place to put its shiny new government building.