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:

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Interior:

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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.

Council approves East Main St. site as new home of DPDHQ

This site had been the front runner for a while, and according to the Herald the council sealed the deal last night:

City Council members signed off Monday on the choice of a site for Durham’s next police headquarters, agreeing to spend $5.7 million to buy a 4.5-acre property for it off East Main Street.

The city intends to demolish the historic Carpenter Motor Co. buildings as well as the small restaurant Not Just Wings which are presently on the site. Open Durham has an early drawing of the potential footprint.

The city intends to foot the bill for the project in part by selling off the old HQ, whose last appraisal came in at $5.1M. Still, the $4.5M price tag for the new East Main St. parcel was too high for Eugene Brown who provided the lone dissent in the 6-1 vote.

This sort of structure is typically built like a fortress with limited ingress and egress points, so you could expect for the streetscape to be pretty bleak. David Arneson of Center Studio Architecture brought up such concerns on the ABCD Durham mailing list, and presented two alternate layouts:

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I don’t know how feasible Arneson’s alternatives are, but the idea of getting a usable streetscape on East Main St. here is really compelling. Councilman Schewel did respond and allay some of the fears regarding the setback for surface parking along East Main:

Of the several “fits” we saw for the site at the council work session, none of them included a parking lot in front of the building along Main St. I feel very comfortable in saying that the City staff planning this HQ are going to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

However the site ends up being developed, it’s now pretty certain that it will be developed. The opportunity available to citizens now is to help ensure it’s developed responsibly.

Another big question: what’s going to come of the old site? As of right now, it’s hard to predict, since we’re still several years out. I personally have kind of an affinity for the structure, which is in a style without much representation in Durham. It’s pretty safe to assume that the city will sell the site, and I really think it has the potential to be a lot more interesting than the generic student housing across the street at 605 West.

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:

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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…

DCM changes name… to DCM

I noticed that DCM has  gone through a bit of rebranding to reflect their non-central-park-adjacent location:

As many of you know, this co-op market was originally named with a location in the Durham Central Park district in mind. As we move into our actual location, on West Chapel Hill Street, conveniently located near to downtown, both Duke campuses, and many residential neighborhoods, we have changed the name of the market to avoid confusion, and to emphasize our cooperative structure. From now on, Durham Central Market will be known as Durham Co-op Market.

So, yeah, from now on you can just call it… DCM. I see what you did there, guys.

In addition to a new name, they’ve got a new (very slow at the time of this writing) web site at durham.coop. The grocer is currently planning to open “just after the new year” and looks to hire 20-30 employees prior to opening.