Local News

Durham keeps rolling with struggling development project

Posted October 5, 2009 7:29 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2009 9:24 p.m. EDT

— Developers twice have failed in attempts to develop property in Durham's Hayti community, but the city keeps pouring money into the project with the hopes that it will succeed.

McCormack Baron Salazar, a developer known nationally for putting mixed-income housing in inner-city areas, was hired by the city two years ago to work on the Rolling Hills neighborhood. The developer was supposed to pay $355,000 toward the planning costs for the project, with the city kicking in the other $325,000.

Because the down economy precluded the developer from raising its portion, the City Council voted unanimously Monday in favor of picking up the entire cost of the Rolling Hills planning study.

Durham officials two years ago spent $5.8 million to buy out 51 homeowners in the neighborhood, which has gone into foreclosure twice in the past two decades.

Located on 19 acres off Lakewood Avenue south of downtown, Rolling Hills was started in 1986 by a nonprofit development company formed by North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. They company was to build 250 townhomes and patio homes, but it finished only 30 townhouses and 13 patio homes before going bankrupt.

In the late 1990s, Southeast Durham Development Corp. proposed building 90 single-family homes in Rolling Hills. It completed nine and had two more under construction when the city foreclosed in 2003.

"This is ground zero in government failure," City Councilman Eugene Brown said. "It's really an embarrassment."

Five homeowners still own property in Rolling Hills. Elton Faulk said he and his wife are negotiating with the city to sell their house.

"We are now one of the last still standing," Faulk said with a laugh. "We are ready to get out of here."

When the Faulks moved in about 20 years ago, Rolling Hills had a swimming pool and tennis court like many Triangle subdivisions. Both are now overgrown with weeds and debris.

Larry Jarvis, Durham's assistant director of community development, said the city is planning to get Rolling Hills right this time by incorporating it into a master plan for the 125-acre Southside community.

"It's an opportunity. It's kind of island of disinvestment surrounded by a lot of positive things," Jarvis said.

"We just have to bite the bullet and do this, but do it correctly," Brown said.

Ray Eurquhart, who grew up in the Hayti community, said he hopes the third time will be the charm for Rolling Hills.

"We just want a beautiful product here that complements our historical memory of Hayti," Eurquhart said.