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Mayor, City Council wrestles with Jackson Street lot development ideas

Herald Sun

Mayor, City Council wrestles with Jackson Street lot development ideas

Lauren Horsch                 Updated Nov 7, 2015

DURHAM — The options for what to do with a piece of land owned by the city near Durham Station were laid out to City Council members at their work session this weekm prompting Mayor Bill Bell to back a promise he made while on the campaign trail.

A city-owned lot on Jackson Street was the target of Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods’ (Durham CAN) action to apply for tax credits to build low-income housing in the heart of downtown.

However, when the motion came to the council in September the members voted against fast tracking that location, and opening up the process for project proposals on the site.

“The takeaway from that meeting was that the administration would have the allowability to design a (request for proposal process) that could elicit proposal options with various development types on the Jackson Street property,” Kevin Dick, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said on Thursday.

Dick said there are three options for the proposals:

— Strictly affordable housing related to area median income levels

— Mixed-income housing with a percentage of affordable unit

— Market rate and or workforce housing

Each of the categories would have a scoring system through the process which would be evaluated by the council before a final decision is made on how to best use the site.

“We found it very difficult to score one against the other,” Dick said.

That’s when Bell chimed in.

“I’ve heard from at least the majority of council members, this council and the incoming council members, that what they would like to see on that property is mixed income,” Bell said. “My question is … If in fact that’s what the majority of the council wants, why are we putting an option for market rate housing as something we’re doing?”

The options, Dick said, were to allow for “creativity and flexibility” in proposals.

“I think the council needs to speak up,” Bell said. “I’ve heard recently where the goal was to have it skew as much as possible toward low-medium income … make no more than 20 percent of it market rate and we’ve been very specific.”

Councilman Eddie Davis suggested making the wording work to make the make-up of the housing flexible.

Councilman Steve Schewel was also against the thought of creating market rate units, and said there are ways to word the proposals in order to get the maximum amount of flexibility in the amount of affordable units.

“Everybody wants to have affordable housing,” Bell said. “So we’re saying, ‘Fine, but let’s do mixed-income, affordable housing (and) skew it heavily toward low-medium income.’”

His suggestion throughout the meeting was having 80 percent affordable units for below the area median income levels and 20 percent at market rate.

Departing Councilwoman Diane Catotti weighed in even though she won’t be sitting on the council once the proposals come back.

“The acreage is big enough that you could have multiple buildings, right? So it could be that you have one that is 100 percent affordable, and one that is ‘other’,” Catotti said. “I feel like you’re about to get a whole lot of good information from the consultants … but my question is: ‘Do you know what you want or are you waiting for some of that information?’”

Bell, however, pointed out that the consultants would be analyzing all of Durham, not just the Jackson Street property.

“So we’re trying to deal with Jackson Street, and the question is: ‘How do you best move forward on Jackson Street?’” he said.

Bonfield said he was worried being too prescriptive with the mix of housing would be detrimental to the proposals.

“Is it about the total number of affordable units that can be built on that piece of property, in that 2.1 acres in a financeable way? Or is it about the mix of market rate and affordable units that can be built on the property?” Bonfield asked.

Bell said his preference was about the mix of market rate and affordable units. He added that he doesn’t understand why the city is in a rush.

“The land is valuable and no one is forcing us to do anything with it, I think we’ve got a proposal that has been recommended that we look at,” he said.

Follow on Twitter at @LaurenHorsch.

Contact Lauren Horsch: lhorsch@heraldsun.com, 919-419-6646