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Duke, neighborhood on road to compromise over gated street

Posted April 9, 2009

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— Duke University has backed off a proposal to close off a public street near campus for improved security.

Neighbors protested Duke's plan to put a gate at the intersection of South Buchanan Boulevard and Maxwell Avenue, where the university is undertaking a $50 million redevelopment project.

Maxwell Avenue, South Buchanan Boulevard Duke drops idea of gating Durham street

"People use that area for bikes and walkways to get to Duke and Campus Drive," said John Glasson, who lives on nearby Burch Avenue.

Glasson said the shortcut helps people avoid having to cross the rail line a block to the north of Maxwell Avenue.

"With all the trains coming in, you can't get through that area (without the shortcut)," he said.

Duke has revamped a vacant 200,000-square-foot warehouse along Maxwell Avenue for classrooms, offices and lab space. The university also is upgrading an old coal-fired steam plant to run on cleaner-burning natural gas.

Eventually, 650 Duke students and staff will use the facilities, and Duke officials floated the idea of closing access to the street and issuing key cards to those who needed to get in. They said the proposal was solely for safety reasons.

"It feels like too much of a land grab," Glasson said.

City officials would have to give Duke permission to close Maxwell Avenue and Sumter Street, a cross street about halfway down Maxwell, but Mayor Bill Bell said the City Council needs more information about the project before making a decision.

"Do the streets need to be closed or don't they, or can we get by with actually putting gates on the parking lot and still allowing access for the community?" Bell said.

Duke officials said they are working with Durham officials and people in the neighborhood on a solution and likely won't seek to close the two streets.

"We are in the process right now of working with the neighborhood association (and) with the city, making sure that all things work," said Mike Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Schoenfeld said Duke also plans to pave the gravel streets as part of the redevelopment and replace the century-old utilities that run beneath them.

"It's a ... bridge between the Duke campus and the downtown," he said.

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  • decoydave Apr 10, 2009

    No, Duke does not "own" Maxwell or Sumter streets, only the adjacent property. Duke no more owns these streets than do you own the street in front of your house. The streets are public right-of-way, held by the city of Durham, and are currently used by residents of surrounding neighborhoods.

    I'm sure it would simplify (and probably reduce the cost of) Duke's plans to develop the Smith Warehouse property to have the city cede these roads to them. However, Duke's private convenience does not mean there's a *public* interest in closing the streets.

    Of course Duke has a right to protect their property and people. They already have a fence in place surrounding Smith Warehouse and its adjacent parking, and nothing is stopping them from similarly fencing in the remainder of their property along Maxwell. As for the "rampant crime" in the area, it's no more "rampant" than in other neighborhoods surrounding Duke. Get on the DPD crime mapper and see for yourself.

  • meh2 Apr 9, 2009

    Land grab? What? Do they not own it already? Do they not have a right to protect their property and the occupants thereof from the rampant crime in that area? What a changey way to look at things.