INC NEWS - INC-list Digest, Vol 36, Issue 2
randy at 27beverly.com
Mon Dec 3 02:14:28 EST 2007
There are a lot of reasons for developers to not look toward rebuilding
the Durham inner-city neighborhoods. The first thing that comes to mind is
lot size. In many older neighborhoods in Durham, the current lot sizes
would be non-conforming by today's standards. And on these small lots, you
can't build the size of homes that the folks moving to Durham are looking
to buy (or moving up to buy). Even if you tore them down a block at a time
as Bill suggests, you could still only build a certain size house on the
lot due to the setback requirements. And if everyone wanted small houses,
then this would work. But that's just not the case.
The perks offered in a new home are much more desirable to the young
working families moving here. They either like old houses, buy one and fix
it up or they buy a new home that doesn't require much effort to move in
and enjoy. The boarded up homes tend to be in the neighborhoods that
suffer a great deal of blight. The current target zone for the Police
Dept. (a 2 mile radius out near and around Angier Ave. I believe) comes to
mind. If you ride down these streets and look what the neighborhood has to
offer, normal folks looking for a new home wouldn't think about buying one
there (even if they didn't know about the other troubles in that hood).
But there are some large lots with bigger older homes there.
Yet, you see things like the Barnes Ave. Project being done. It's a
beautiful neighborhood still surrounded by trouble. It wasn't done by a
developer because no developer would have touched it. It's a City project.
So what's wrong with the City doing the development? They have all the
resources we can pay for. It's not the new homes, new streets, or redone
properties that change a neighborhood. It's the neighbors who develop a
sense of pride in where they live that make a neighborhood desirable.
I was delivering a load of firewood I was donating to Urban Ministries
last week when I really saw the contrast. Right behind the properties they
own is Barnes Ave. Looking past some of the run down properties in that
neighborhood, I could see the new construction being built on Barnes. No
one wants to own a new home and look out your window and see a mess like
that behind them. That's why developers like to set the tone for
everything that goes into a new development. They give it a fancy name,
coordinate the street names and signs. They might even go so far as
choosing period style lighting to add to the character they want to have.
Then all of the homes are new and of the same caliber and their views are
of the same. It's like this in every neighborhood new or old. A developer
built the neighborhood at some point in time. As time has gone forward,
development demands have changed; larger lots, more yard space and other
amenities like pools and tennis courts. It's what people want.
The depressed housing market in the blighted areas of the City offer some
bargains for those who are willing to work to change the neighborhood.
Increasing property ownership, ridding the neighborhood of drug dealers,
and repairing these run-down properties all have an up side. It increases
property values and creates a neighborhood others enjoy living in again.
But in the process, it displaces those who once rented homes, sold drugs
on the corner, and generally didn't care what the neighborhood looked
like. These folks have to go somewhere. So they move to another area and
the cycle repeats itself. A City will never rid itself of blight because
those folks who support it have to live somewhere. There are larger
societal issues that will have to be addressed before this ever changes.
Walltown is another example. A large portion of Walltown underwent a
phenomenal change. But there are still boarded up houses and still drug
dealing on the corners. And it if never makes it over these humps, it'll
find itself back to the way it was again. Because getting back there is
easier than changing. St Theresa is the newest redevelopment project. It's
beside Rolling Hills which was a complete failure. There the money was
spent and nothing happened. It looks like a run-down ghost town. And now
the City has decided to waste yet more money and try it again. Will it
work this time? Who knows. Who even knows where all the money they spent
last time went and why none of it is being repaid? As I recall, it was
somewhere around a million dollars. Now it looks like SBER is leading the
charge to do something. Maybe getting someone in here from out of town to
redo what should have already been done will be the trick. Time will once
My neighborhood of Forest Hills could have easily gone another direction.
Had it not been for a new generation of homeowners who wanted to fix these
big old houses up instead of making them rental properties, it could have
all been a different picture over here. Instead of a neighborhood in
decline, we have a historic neighborhood that takes pride in their itself.
Northgate Park has to be one of the prettiest parks in town. I have been
going there every day since the dog park opened. It is a much prettier
park than ours in Forest Hills. But the difference in the homes will never
change. You couldn't buy 2 houses, tear them down and build one large one;
current regulations wouldn't allow it. So the neighborhood will remain a
neighborhood of those smaller type homes on smaller lots. Even with the
$5+M of park improvements that are coming, it won't change the housing
stock to any extent. I would believe that a developer, if he could, would
love the chance to buy a large portion of Northgate Park houses, tear them
down and build really nice large in-demand homes overlooking the park. But
that'll never happen. So if you want to live there, what's currently there
has to meet you wants and needs. Otherwise you have to look elsewhere.
None of this addresses the clear cutting going on out in Southern Durham.
Having been a developer of large tracts of land, it's easy to understand
why it is done this way. We never did clearcut because we only built
subdivisions. So the extent of clearing we did was primarily for roads and
water/sewer out falls. This has a lot less impact than the current
discussion. The planned communities pretty much call for reshaping the
land they are built on. Why? Because they are planned that way. I look at
other developments now being built (or finishing being built) and it's
easy to see why they did what they did (or are doing). It was planned that
way. Could they plan it any different? Maybe, but if Melissa goes around
to any neighborhood where new homes are being built (where the lots have
not yet been cut or graded) and then goes back a year after it all gets
finished, she'll notice a number of trees that were left didn't make it.
This type of land disturbing activity also takes its toll on the trees
that are left. Often they die within the first year from now being exposed
to the daily sun or from root damage during construction.
At some point in time, at each of our homes and neighborhoods we live in,
the same thing was happening. Trees were bing cut, roads were being built
and the face of the landscape was changing. Often we forget that because
it happened before we arrived at where we currently live. 15 trees were
taken down this fall around our park. I've taken down more than 60 trees
at my house. Townsend is taking down trees off Alston Ave. Then we read
about the trees being planted last week in TLA neighborhood; everybody is
planting more of them as well. Is there a net gain or net loss? I don't
know anyone who is keeping track. But I'd say we're about even over here.
Erosion is different than trees being cut and there are currently strict
enforcement of those laws. I know, because we helped change them in the
eighties to become something that hurts a developer where he feels it; in
Development always spreads out when it can (when not limited by boundaries
such as water or mountains). Durham started as train stop by the railroad.
If you believe what you read, we're one of the best places to live. So
being so popular (at least on the national front) has it's drawbacks. More
people, more places to live, more traffic; they're all part of the success
story. And if we're all lucky, we'll live here long enough to see it just
get better and better. But only if we work to keep it that way. It's our
regional economy that has made it such a great place to be. And it
doesn't look like that'll change in the near future.
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