The Chronicle

An attempt by the Durham Housing Authority to buy property in the Ebony Woods neighborhood stirred up vocal opposition at the Durham City Council's biweekly meeting Monday night.

The DHA was planning on using the principle of eminent domain to condemn and acquire approximately 5,600 square feet owned by T-WOL Acquisition Company, paying for the property with public funds. The DHA would therefore confiscate T-WOL's land with or without their permission and compensate them in order to build a low-income housing complex on the site.

Many Ebony Woods residents and other Durham citizens came to the meeting for the sole purpose of opposing the DHA's intentions. Among them, Durham County Commissioner and president of the Durham Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Joe Bowser said he opposed the proposal because he couldn't see any legitimate reason to use eminent domain, which he said is usually applied when there is a clear and direct benefit to the public.

"I do not think it would be right to take this land from these individuals," Bowser said. "I do not think this is either the time or place to use public domain for a reason that doesn't exist."

Rudolph Clark, a spokesman of T-WOL, agreed.

"Eminent domain should be used only when it is absolutely necessary," Clark said.

Opponents also claimed private home ownership in the neighborhood by the low-income residents would serve them better.

After listening to public input, the Council decided to turn down the proposal by a vote of six to one, preventing the DHA from buying the land. Council member Howard Clement dissented, saying that he needed more information to make a decision.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the Council voted to expedite a hearing before the Zoning Commission in order to determine whether a local anti-substance abuse group could build a housing complex in Durham. TROSA, or Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, specializes in providing affordable housing for recovering addicts. Though most council members said they supported TROSA's goals, they were divided on the question of whether or not to build apartments for former substance abusers in what some residents considered a dangerous neighborhood.

Council member Tamra Edwards criticized the merits of the proposal directly.

"We just don't need any more rental properties in that area," said Edwards. "We need... home ownership in that community."

By expediting the hearing, the Council will be able to make a decision on the matter by May 5, before funding deadlines.

The Council also authorized a 48,238 square foot addition to Rogers-Herr Middle School. The enlarged facility would allow the removal of eight mobile home classrooms and provide space for art and music classrooms.

Lastly, the Council adopted a resolution celebrating Durham's Sesquicentennial, or 150-year anniversary. Durham was founded in 1854, with the creation of a railroad station in what is now downtown.