Gentrification worries some who live near downtown Durham
Posted May 3
Durham, N.C. — A developer's plans to build some luxury townhouses in an established neighborhood near downtown Durham has sparked fears that longtime residents may soon be priced out of the area.
Kirk West said an investment group he's part of wants to raze two dilapidated duplexes in the 200 block of West Geer Street and replace them with four brownstone-style townhouses.
"Those two properties, I’ve always thought were an eyesore," West said Wednesday. "When I saw them come on the market, I thought this is a good opportunity to make something nice there."
While the plan for the project "is make it look like it’s always been there," he said, residents of the Old North Durham neighborhood said the sale prices for the townhouses are clearly new to the area.
Each of the two-bedroom units in the duplexes rent for $700 a month, but West said the townhouses will be priced at about $550,000 each.
"It is gentrification, yeah. I don’t think there’s any question about that," said John Martin, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years. "There are obviously both good and bad aspects to gentrification. If you make a neighborhood look better, there’s nothing particularly bad about that. If you don’t have alternatives for moderate-income people, then that’s a bad thing."
Jeff Goldman of 501 Realty said housing prices in most neighborhoods near downtown Durham have skyrocketed because of limited supply and intense demand.
"It's all about downtown," Goldman said. "People want to be close to that action."
He cited one home in the Old North Durham neighborhood that was listed at $325,000 and had 17 purchase offers within days of going on the market. He didn't know the final sale price but noted it was more than $360,000.
"These residents around here are getting bombarded with postcards from folks that say, 'We buy houses for cash, any condition.' It’s just nonstop," Goldman said. "There’s some real demand here, and I think, long term, the ceiling is the roof, as Michael Jordan would say."
West said he and his partners chose to build townhouses because there are few similar options near downtown.
Nearby residents say they don't like plans calling for garages on the units to face Geer Street, saying that wouldn't blend in well with the neighborhood.
"The idea of having garages facing the street is not something that would be attractive, and to spend a lot of money to build that would be, I think, terrible for the street," Martin said. "This is a very historic neighborhood, and preserving a lot of the historic architecture is something I would like to see."
West said he will listen to residents' concerns as the project moves forward.
"The goal with these is to fit in and blend in and make it nicer than it was before," he said.