Local News

Developer, residents disagree over proposed housing in affluent Durham neighborhood

Posted November 6, 2017 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2017 9:18 p.m. EST

— Dozens of people turned out Monday night to learn more about a proposed development that some say would forever change their upscale Durham neighborhood.

Developer Bob Chapman’s plan calls for 57 townhomes, duplexes and single-family homes on 12.5 acres of land that was once owned by Duke heiress Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. Developers would keep the original home intact.

Residents were not shy about expressing concerns that the project does not suit the neighborhood as developers made their pitch to a sometimes unfriendly crowd.

Chapman said the development would be an asset to the area, but many were unconvinced.

“I think it’s going to forever change the character of Forest Hills,” resident Tom Wiley said. “They’re going to be essentially dropping a high-density subdivision in a national historic district filled with mostly older homes in a huge variety of styles.”

Current residents said the high-density project does not suit their neighborhood.

“There’s quite a concern that the entire character of the neighborhood is at stake here,” resident Anjen Chenn said. “Before you know it, what we know as a community that we love and moved into is at risk.”

Chapman showed off renderings of what the proposed development would look like and highlighted the fact that he is a friend of the Semans family and will make sure the project is done right.

Residents, however, believe that the number of proposed homes could not possibly fit into the neighborhood, no matter how well they are built.

“What we’re not hearing is a compelling reason why these developers want to come in and establish this development at the density of housing that they have,” Chenn said.

Semans’ son, James Semans, who currently owns the property, told the crowd that he tried to donate the estate to a nonprofit, but nobody wanted it because of the expense.

Chapman said nothing about the plan is set in stone and he is open to the idea of having fewer homes on the property.

The project would require a rezoning from the city before it could move forward. Current zoning for the area allows 2.5 residences per acre while the proposed development would have 6 residences per acre, according to Director of the Durham City-County Planning Department Patrick Young.