Aura 751 housing project near Southpoint | New apartment construction in Durham approved unanimously over concerns from neighbors

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — Monday night, the Durham City Council unanimously approved the Aura 751 project, a proposal which could add hundreds of residential units near The Streets at Southpoint.

“What the future growth map framework says is you look at the surrounding area and the housing types that exist and you try to add additional housing diversity through these new developments, so that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here is to add a different product type to what’s offered there. To add needed density to the area, so we’re proposing a multi-family development,” said Collier Marsh, a Partner with Parker Poe who is working on behalf of Dallas-based Trinsic Residential Group.

The project, located along Highway 751 and Wayfield Avenue, would include up to 350 apartment units in buildings at least four stories high. Of those units, 22 would be income-restricted, with 11 at 60% Area Median Income (AMI) and 11 at 80% AMI, for a period of 30 years.

“People having stable, safe housing is such a core need that we have to meet, because if we can get people’s housing stable, it makes it so much easier for them to be employed, it makes it so much easier for them to be healthy, it makes it so much easier for residents to thrive and have high-quality lives,” said Councilmember Javiera Caballero.

SEE ALSO | Boomtowns: South Durham’s growth leads to need for new schools, houses and mall expansion

While parts of Durham such as downtown are going through renewal and revitalization, on the south side, there are entire neighborhoods going from the ground up.

Both the number of units and length associated with the units were amongst changes the developer made after the city’s planning committee unanimously recommended against the project last year. Other amendments included the introduction of 10 EV chargers, a pledge for green building certification, increased buffers and efforts to address ecological concerns.

“Some unique species have been identified (on the property). We’re ensuring that would be preserved on our side, it wouldn’t be disturbed. We also have a requirement to plant only native trees within the project,” said Marsh.

“Ultimately I felt that the developers did what we asked them to do,” said Caballero, who highlighted the rarity of unanimous agreement on council.

However, neighbors who live along the stretch questioned both the impact and need, while downplaying its stated impact.

“We also find the claims that the developers made to improve the low-income housing provisions in this area to be somewhat laughable. The low-income housing provisions that they’ve set aside require residents to be making $55,000 and $65,000 a year just to qualify for inclusion,” said Kevin Sullivan, a Durham resident who spoke at Monday night’s city council meeting.

“Our first concern is traffic. It’s already very difficult and unsafe to turn on to Highway 751 due to high traffic volume. Wrecks occur frequently in this area. We expect that the added 1,400 daily car trips will worsen that situation especially at peak hours,” added Andrea Medenblik, a Durham resident who serves as HOA of a neighborhood near the planned site.

Durham native Grant Harvey has lived along Highway 751 for 20 years, and believed the city should have waited before moving forward with another plan of this scale.

“The Streets at Southpoint, (Durham City Council) approved that expansion. And so the point was brought up. Why not build that and see how that impacts the density in this area and the affordable housing and then build this thing if there’s a need. Right now, I don’t think that location needs 350 apartments,” said Harvey. Caballero voted against that project, which did not include designated affordable housing units, though did see Brookfield, the Streets at Southpoint Mall’s owner make a $1 donation to Durham’s affordable housing fund.

Harvey said he supports development, and acknowledged the need for affordable housing. However, he said this specific project falls short of accomplishing the city’s goals, while expressing concern over how the neighborhood could be affected.

“We’ve had consistent water running from the back of our property where this property is located for 20 years. In fact, we’ve had the city out here to look at our water main because I thought there was a leak, but it was groundwater. You couldn’t see the water meter. And still to this day, you can see this consistent water draining, and we haven’t had appreciable rain for several days. They never looked at the existing groundwater problem and that’s disappointing,” said Harvey.

Aaron Cain, who serves as Principal Planner for the city, explained the city’s role moving forward.

“The next stage for the development process is to submit what’s called a site plan, which is a more detailed drawing and more detailed plan of what exactly they’re looking to do. Where the buildings are going to be exactly, where the trees are going to be, where the plantings are going to be, where the parking lots are going to be, where the dumpsters are going to be. All of those details go into a site plan, and we have a team of reviewers in the department that will look at that site plan and look at the rezoning that the City Council approved and make sure that what their site plans says they’re going to do matches what the zoning says they need to do. If it doesn’t, they’ll kick it back and say, ‘no, you need to fix this, you need to fix that, you need to fix the other thing to make sure it’s in compliance.’ Once they get approved, and they start going into construction drawings and building permits and things like that, it’s checked again – are you actually building what you said you’re going to build on the site plan. There’s still several stages of review from city staff to make sure that they follow through,” said Cain.

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