Razing plans for Durham house raising hackles in historic neighborhood
Posted May 5, 2015
Durham, N.C. — Plans to tear down a home in a historic Durham neighborhood have upset nearby residents, who are powerless to stop the demolition.
Trevor Smith and his wife bought the bungalow at 2308 W. Club Blvd. last summer and had initially planned to split the property with some friends, but when they learned the property wasn't large enough to accommodate that, the couple decided to add on to the home. But engineers said the 90-year-old foundation couldn't handle a second floor, so the Smiths decided to raze the home and build a larger one on the lot.
Residents in the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood said they don't like the idea of losing the house, which is known as the Williams-Muse home after its earliest owners.
"It’s important for the new owner to understand how important the street and houses are to the neighborhood and the community," said Sasha Berghausen, an architect who renovated a nearby house. "When there is a house that is in otherwise viable condition, it should be occupied. It has a story and a history with it, and that should not go away because it doesn’t suit a new owner's ideal."
The Durham Historic Preservation Commission approved the Smiths' demolition request Tuesday.
"Essentially, what the property owner's right is is to do the demolition if they are requesting that," commission Chairman Joe Fitzsimons said. "The only option we have is to set a delay on that demolition."
The commission placed a 365-day delay – the maximum possible – on the demolition.
"The purpose of the delay is to encourage the homeowner to work to find another solution," Fitzsimons said.
Smith told the panel that he is open to alternatives.
"We are not set on replacing the home," he said. "We don’t have all the answers. We don’t want to cheapen or disrespect our neighbors, the street or the history of the street. We are deeply committed to Durham and trying to make it a better place."
Berghausen said he hopes the Smiths pursue a different plan.
"If they own it, I like to think they can do with it what they want, but the existence of the Preservation Commission speaks to the fact that this house doesn’t just belong to the individual owner – it belongs to the community and the neighborhood as a whole," he said. "While they technically have the right to tear it down, I think they have a larger responsibility."